Eating Durian, the King of Fruit
I could smell the stinky fruit from half a football field away. The three of us had just finished dinner and were headed toward the night market in Singapore. I thought to myself, “What is that smell?” As I turned to look at our local guide for the evening, she started chattering excitedly with my girlfriend Cocoa in Chinese while looking at me and over to Cocoa. I just knew the two women were plotting some devious plan for me as the non-native; surely I was in for yet another experiment. Next came the question, “Would you like to try Durian?” I had no idea what they were talking about, so I asked, “What is it?” A fruit with a strong smell–some people really like it.” My knee-jerk reaction was to run away screaming, but I had gone through this routine enough times now that there are some amazing foods in Asia. “Sure, why not?” I replied. As we headed in the direction of the smell the women spotted a small cart vendor selling something. It was written in Chinese so I had no idea what it was. The ladies talked again for a moment in rapid Chinese and then asked me, “Would you like to try a durian ice cream sandwich? If you like it, you can try durian fruit later.” Certainly anything in ice cream must taste good and I had enjoyed many American ice cream sandwiches in the past. I sounded safe enough, “Ok, sounds good.” They ordered an ice cream sandwich for me. They ice cream man opened his ice box and pulled out a medium sized plastic bag. Inside were bricks of ice cream which reminded me of oversized soap. He then grabbed a plastic bag of white bread. It was at that point I realized perhaps their version of an ice-cream sandwich was much different than my own. He spread some green bread spread onto the single slide of white bread, and then held the white bread like a taco curling two ends upward into a U-shape. The brick of durian ice-cream was placed in the middle and the whole ice-cream sandwich was put in a small plastic sack. All three watched in anticipation as I took the sandwich. To me, this was a sure sign that foreigners typically have strange reactions to this food. I was certain a gag was being played on me. I took my first tentative bite to taste durian. The ice cream and bread combo was a bit more different than I was used to, but layered over that was a strange, interesting taste. I could not decide if I liked it or not. I took another bite. “Not bad… I think I like it.” The ice cream man smiled. I said “Shay-shay” and bobbed my head in thank you as we walked away. A few minutes later the women spotted a fruit stand and pointed in the direction toward the right side. They both said, “Durian!” Thankfully we had just finished dinner and I just had ice cream. Before me was a rack displaying about 20 pineapple sized pieces of fruit. Like pineapples these had a diamond shaped spiky exterior which certainly could puncture unprotected hands if not handled property. But unlike a pineapple there was no sprouting leaf hairdo at the top. The fruit had a very strong odor coming off of it which resembled the taste in my mouth. I couldn’t decide if it was pleasant or like some sort of mint that had gone rotten. It is definitely an odd smell and taste.
Fast forward about two weeks; we had left Singapore over a week ago and were now spending a week in Penang, Malaysia with Cocoas friends from college. On our last day together they took us out to Georgetown on the island and up some highway road to what they called a “world famous durian fruit stand.” Sure enough, as we pulled up you could smell the strange odor coming from along side the road. Outside was a big giant durian fruit made of concrete with tourists posing beside it. They all knew I had tried the durian ice-cream sandwich, but wanted me to try the fruit. There were six of us this time. After the fruit was cut up it was served with small plastic cups of water nearby and plastic bins for seeds. Everyone started eating the fruit and encouraged me to try a bite. I did and the results were not quite the same as with the durian ice-cream sandwich. The fruit had a soggy, mushy consistency and a very strange taste somewhat like mint gone bad. Part of me wanted to vomit, but part liked the mint like taste. I took two more bites and worked at chewing and swallowing. It became more difficult not to vomit. Finally I started spitting out what was left in my mouth and I downed one cup of water in two gulps. I continued spitting. Everyone just sat at the table watching in fascination before someone asked, “Do you not like durian?” I thought by my reaction it was rather obvious. I tried to laugh a bit because in a way it was really funny. I simply never know what I’m getting into while traveling and trying foods. Sometimes you score bit time and other times you fail. I gave durian the two thumbs down and decided that it is just not a fruit I’ll enjoy anytime soon. I explained my thoughts, ask for more water. I received water and a different sweet fruit to help clear my mouth. The only downside was having the taste in my mouth for the next two hours as my digestion system tried to work with the few bites I had eaten. Every time I burped even a little bit, the strong durian taste filled my mouth and nose causing me to want to vomit. I would only smile because I though the whole experience was so amusing. I just love trying new things like this and recommend you form your own opinion (but perhaps have some fruit juice or something nearby to drink afterwards).