Spiky, pongy, stinky, sticky, gloopy, but oh so delicious Durian
You can tell you’re in the presence of a durian fruit before even seeing it. The smell carries for miles, through walls and around corners; its malodorous stench taken on the wind across the Chao Phraya river. Although, you can’t deny that it’s a bright fruit, the Stephen Hawkins of the botany world; giving off the odour of rotting flesh to fool potential consumers.
Up until now, the durian had eluded me, deliberately so. However, given that I have chosen to call Bangkok home, this sizeable stinky mass with its appearance of an obese hedgehog was at least worth considering, if not consuming. And anyhow, I needed to understand a nation’s—perhaps even a continent’s—fascination.
Last month in Singapore, McDonald’s announced they were launching a Durian McFlurry in line with the National Day celebrations. In their advertising, plain white cloth gloves—often associated with the handling of durians—made an appearance with the McDonald’s logo as the fruit handler splitting the fruit to reveal the new D24 Durian McFlurry within. “If there’s one fruit that could bring Singaporeans together,” said Agatha Yap, Senior Director of Marketing & Digital Innovation at McDonald’s Singapore, “it’s got to be the durian.”
Last year, McDonald’s in Malaysia also brought in the durian flavour as part of its Merdeka campaign, as well as reintroducing the Durian McFlurry last month in line with Hari Raya Aidilfitri and the football World Cup. All of this durian-loving and fruity-appreciation made me wonder, what the hell is all the fuss about.
My research took me on a zigzag tour of Bangkok, all of the labyrinthine dark and strange Sois full of dodgy, durian-eating characters, and dead ends (or ends you wish you were dead in). The distinction between fresh durian, packaged durian, and supermarket durian first had to be made. It seems that, such is the love for durian, that it has its own merchandise, sold in a variety of forms from Durian KitKat, Durian & Black Truffle Crisps, Durian Cheesecake, and Durian with Dried Tamarind.
In its fresh form, durian is somewhat frightening; like a giant green conker. Right now it’s durian season, just about (April through August), and because of this I was finding premium examples. My first (from Or Tor Kor Market) and my second (from a vendor on Charoenkrung Road in Chinatown, who very kindly helped prise open the fruit for me), were both, well, fine. Delicious, yes. Stinky, well of course. And not at all what I’d expected.
Inside, the flesh is marmoreally slimy, some say silky. And, once you get past the stench, a gelatinous stony goo reveals itself, a texture Asians prize. You pull and tear, and suck and nibble. In fact, I don’t know how you eat it? I don’t think anyone does.
The texture is spongy and the flavour complex and challenging to describe. Creamy maybe, with an undertone of caramel. Actually, it’s rather yummy. Soft, squidgy, and pulpy; a little bit caramel and custard, and a little bit banana.
Apparently, the old, over-ripe ones taste of vinegar, like licking an infected spot on a stranger’s face, or as Anthony Bourdain once observed, “It’ll leave your breath smelling as if you’ve been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” I’m sure detractors will continue to berate and slander the durian name, but I’m now firmly in the devotee camp; as long as I hold my nose.