Learning to love durian: Why the world's stinkiest fruit is better than wine, cheese or chocolate


Durian. No other fruit creates such conflicting opinions. Throughout Southeast Asia the green, hedgehog-shaped “king of the fruits” is appreciated as haute cuisine to be savored like wine or truffles. Westerners, however, are confounded by the hype because, well, durians smell like road kill wrapped in sweaty socks and have the texture of rotten bananas. We nod our heads in approval when we see “No Durian” signs in swanky hotel lobbies and on the Singapore Metro.

I was first introduced to Durian when I was 20 years old in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My Thai friends told me to take it slow and start with durian ice cream or cookies, which capture the flavor but not the smell. They were right — the absence of the intense odor helps get the stuff down, but I still wasn’t crazy about the flavor; the almost-tangy, near-putrid aftertaste lingers for several minutes even after being baked into a biscuit. Durian, in any form, doesn’t want you to forget it.

Years went by and I tried durian in several countries. I politely ate small bites when they were offered to me by locals, I once ate a big slab of it at the bottom of an ice cendol (a sugary Malaysian shaved ice dessert) and in the center fillings of chocolates, and I found out that durian means “thorny” in Indonesian and that you can potentially kill a person by throwing one at someone’s head. But I still didn’t think it tasted very good.Then, a few months ago, almost 20 years after my first durian experience, I arrived in Malaysia at the height of durian season. The fruit, in a dizzying number of varietals, was displayed in stall after stall at markets and along roadsides. Locals were scrambling to get in as much durian eating as they could and the smell was everywhere. After a few weeks of inhaling the odor daily, for some strange reason, it stopped smelling bad and actually made me hungry. I wanted to eat durian. It was weird.

So while in Melaka I asked my friends Brandon and Choo if they could take me out to show me what all the hullabaloo was about. They were thrilled.

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