I first learned about the durian fruit when I was visiting Malaysia a few years ago. Tourists could be heard asking questions about it, while locals quickly dismissed it. It seemed to be an elusive fruit. Although apparently very well known in Malaysia, it could be found nowhere.
Things were no different on my latest trip to Southeast Asia. I decided that while I was in Thailand, I was going to finally try some durian. Once again, it turned out to be a misadventure trying to find it. When I sought the assistance of my hotel’s concierge, he asked me why I would want it. He suggested a lychee instead. When I was riding an elephant through the jungles of northern Thailand, I asked my guide where I could find durian. He happily pointed out lychee trees and told me that lychee is much better. No one seemed to have a clue where I could find durian. Granted, I was probably looking for it in the wrong places (e.g., tourist areas), and it didn’t help that the durian was not in season during my visit (peak season is June-July).
But all was not lost in my quest to find durian in Thailand. During my visit to the Gourmet Market at the Terminal 21 shopping mall in Bangkok, I got lucky and found a few packaged durian items. Although not fresh, I figured it would at least give me an idea of what durian was like, and at the very least, it would make for a good souvenir to take home. I opted for durian wafer cookies (who doesn’t like wafer cookies?) and loaded up my suitcase with them. I anxiously awaited my return home when I would tear open a box and experience this exotic fruit for the first time with loved ones.
What is durian?
Before I go on any further, you are probably wondering what exactly is durian. Known as the “king of fruit”, it’s a very large tropical spiny fruit that grows on trees throughout Southeast Asia. It’s about the size and shape of an American football. To eat it, one needs to break through the prickly skin to get to the large seeds inside. The seeds, about the size of a date, contain the only edible part of the fruit, which is the thick, custardy meat that covers them. It’s been described as exotic, luxurious, and unique. Sounds pretty good so far, right?
Well, don’t run to the nearest Asian market just yet. It’s also been described as smelly, revolting, and disgusting. This is where the durian becomes one of the most controversial fruits you can buy. When it comes to taste and smell, strong opinions exist for both.
Some people find the taste to be awful saying it tastes like garlic or onions. Others find it pleasant and sometimes refer to it as having a mango or avocado type taste to it. When it comes to the smell of durian, even stronger opinions exist. The edible meat of durian just happens to emit a very distinctive smell. To many, the odor is repulsive. Because of this, the fruit is actually banned in many hotels and on public transport around Southeast Asia.
My first taste of durian
Upon my return from Thailand, I could not wait to try my durian wafer cookies. However, my excitement was short lived. As soon as I opened the small packages of cookies, I was hit with a very pungent smell. It smelled like rotting onions with a hint of vanilla. The smell was so bad that I was hesitant to even try the cookies. However, I discovered that if you let the cookies “air out” for a few minutes, the smell will dissipate. Although I did not find the taste to be too bad (it was actually a unique flavor), it definitely was not the cookie for me.
It had a bit of a peppery onion flavor, and onion flavored cookies simply don’t appeal to me. I was now a bit hesitant to hand these boxes of cookies out to family, friends, and colleagues, but what else was I going to do with close to 10 boxes of them? I convinced myself that I simply had a picky palate, and that I would let everyone decide for themselves if they were going to be a lover or hater of the durian fruit. Besides, it’s the thought that counts, even if they might think I’m trying to poison them after they try them.
So what did everyone else think of durian? The Taste Test
Test Subject 1: My husband
It’s no secret that my husband enjoys a cookie every now and then. I decided to swap out the cookies in our cookie jar with the Durian wafer cookies. I then simply let him know that I bought some fresh delicious cookies, and he took the bait. He took a few out of the cookie jar, sat in his comfy chair, and got ready to enjoy a cookie break while watching his favorite show. One bite later, cookies were being violently spat into a paper towel, and he proclaimed, “I think those cookies are bad, where did you buy them?” #RottenCookies
Test Subject 2: My sister and parents
Shortly after I returned from Thailand, I planned a visit home to see my family with durian wafer cookies in tow. What a great souvenir I would surprise them with. Wafer cookies made everyone smile at first, but, sadly, it was short lived. My mother quipped, “that is disgusting” while my father accused me of trying to kill him. My sister, an eternal optimist, proclaimed, “they can’t be that bad.” She took a bite and mumbled, “I think I’m going to throw up” and ran out of the room. #DurianSouvenirFail
Test Subject 3: My nephew
After everyone recovered from their tasting experience, we decided to see if maybe a child’s palate would not be as discerning. After all, it’s a wafer cookie, and kids will eat any kind of cookie, right? Wrong!
We asked him so excitedly if he wanted a cookie, to which he responded very enthusiastically with hands extended, “ yes, yes, yes, I want a cookie.” With a big smile on his face, he reached for his cookie and slowly put it up to his mouth. Then there was a pause. He decided to smell it. What child smells a cookie? Awww, but this is not your average cookie. The smell of durian strikes again, and this is where it went downhill fast. He looked up at us, put the cookie down, and started crying hysterically. (By the way, we did offer him a chocolate chip cookie immediately after this. At first he was hesitant to accept it, but in a few seconds, he was back to his old cookie-monster self). #NotKidFriendly
Love it or Hate it
Granted, my experience and my family’s experience with durian has only been with a small amount of the fruit spread on a wafer cookie, and in all fairness to the cookies, not everyone disliked them (small minority). I think I need to give durian a second chance; I’m not sure if I love it or hate it yet. However, the next time, I’m going to definitely stick with the fruit and skip the cookies.
The good news is that I found a place closer to home where I can easily find an actual durian from Thailand. Right here in New York City’s Chinatown, you’ll be able to pick one up from Durian NYC. The bad news is that it’ll cost you about $30 for just one. I’m thinking at that price, it should be called a fruit for kings instead of the king of fruits.
Have you tried Durian? What did you think it tasted like? Share in the comments below.
© 2015, Tripping Blonde.
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