Friday, April 3, 2009

The king of fruits 榴蓮

Whoops, wrong photo! (love ya, Al!)

Ok, there we go.

This is durian (榴蓮), also known as the "King of Fruits," and I tried eating it for the first time this week. Unfortunately, this monarch's reputation stinks. Literally.

In fact, reading the various descriptions of the durian's unique scent and taste is almost as fun as watching someone try it for the first time:

  • "Eating durian is like eating sweet raspberry flan in the lavatory." - Anthony Burgess, British novelist

  • "Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock." - Richard Sterling, travel and food writer

  • "Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." - Anthony Bourdain, American author and chef

Admittedly, I was apprehensive about tasting durian after reading the above. However, I'd read similar reports about stinky tofu (臭豆腐) and now I love it. So when some Taiwanese friends recently offered durian during dessert, I accepted the challenge.

The portion I tried had been refrigerated, so the smell--like a slightly dirty diaper?--wasn't too strong. The cool, smooth texture reminded me a lot of the custard-apple (釋迦)—which has a very sweet taste—so I guess my brain was expecting the same. As the fruit warmed in my mouth, however, I realized that my assumptions were way off. To me it tasted like I had mouth full of rotting onions.

Honestly, though, it wasn't the worst  thing I'd ever tasted. I was able to swallow it (unlike exotic food guru Andrew Zimmern), and I may even try it again. With it's oniony flavor, I imagine that durian could be tasty when combined with meats or vegetables. Yet, this fruit is usually eaten alone, or as a kind of dessert, which truly boggles my mind.

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