Melissa MacEwen | The Roaming Fork
The stench of love
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 02:04
When you imagine a fruit, I’m willing to bet that you picture something fleshy and sweet, like an apple or a mango. Your hypothetical fruit probably isn’t covered in spines, and it almost definitely doesn’t smell like sewage. But it could! It so could. That in mind, I’d like you to meet the durian.
If you travel to a country like Thailand or the Philippines where durians are common, these beastly fruits pretty much introduce themselves. Even unopened durians have a smell that could aptly be described as aggressive — I think they smell a lot like turpentine, but “garbage,” “gym socks” and “rotten onions” are also common descriptions. Durian aroma varies slightly between the 30 or so durian species. Though the fruits are frequently sold in marketplaces, they are banned from most public transportation and from many hotels, as the smell can become trapped in materials like paint. The real question, then, is a resounding “Why?” Why do people put up with this garbage fruit, whose lingering taste Anthony Bourdain has compared to the after-effects of “French kissing your dead grandmother?” Why are durians the “king of fruits” if many people can’t stand to be within a hundred yards of them?
Because quite simply, they’re delicious. Instead of having one straight-forward flavor, durians have dozens, ranging from banana, to strawberry, to marzipan to, yes, onions and smelly feet. They are overwhelmingly complex. Their texture is also supreme, as they are composed of a sort of rich, fatty custard that’s almost reminiscent of an avocado. They’re so rich, in fact, that’s it’s difficult to eat very much of them. After a couple tablespoons of durian, I’m pretty much set — and I swear it’s not just because of the rancid onion undertones.
So what to do with a durian? It’s nearly impossible to buy high-quality fresh durians in America, so our options here are somewhat limited. I was able to buy pretty good frozen durian back in California, and I nibbled it while waiting for my mom to finish cooking dinner. Back on the east coast, I also found some durian candies on a recent trip to Boston’s Chinatown that replicated the flavor pretty well, if not the texture. Added bonus: handing candies out to my friends and hearing their reactions to the “scallion aftertaste.” So no, as you may have deduced, I didn’t really do any cooking for this particular column. If you were to prepare a durian, however, I’ve heard that they make tasty, smelly milkshakes, and they would probably be delicious with li hing (I’m So Meta Even This Acronym).
Plus, it’s worth buying a durian just, well, for the sake of buying a durian. Since I took Associate Professor of Biology George Ellmore’s fabled Plants and Humanity class and tried a smidge of the durian he handed out, I’ve been mildly obsessed with them.
Still, in case the lure of a stanky fruit isn’t quite enough for you yet, consider the following: there is a building in Singapore called “The Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay” that is affectionately referred to as “The Durian” because of its durian-esque appearance. Furthermore, the durian is commonly believed to be an aphrodisiac, so much so that the phrase “durian jatuh sarung naik” (“the durian falls and the sarong comes up”) is well-known in Indonesia. Finally, let’s appreciate the fact that both elephants and Sumatran tigers have been known to eat durians, despite tigers being carnivorous. These fruits are literally so fascinating and delicious that tigers will change their dietary preferences for them.
I think I’ve made my point.
Melissa MacEwen is a junior majoring in biology and English. She can be reached at Melissa.Macewen@tufts.edu.