Durian – Stinky Fruit or a Must-have Delicacy?

As you know, we love trying new foods everywhere we go.  It is surprising how differently taste develops around the world. Whenever I travel I make a list of foods that are popular in that place, and to be honest I find that sometimes I am not a fan. However, and sometimes even more surprisingly, I find something I like that I would have never tried otherwise.  In many parts of Asia, especially Singapore and Malaysia, one must-try fruit is the stinky durian. It was so high on my list that I didn’t even sleep once I landed, I headed straight for the Chinatown market.

A pile of spiky fresh durian fruit.

Are the spikes on a durian a message from nature that you should proceed cautiously?

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Is Durian on Your Must-Try List?

I have traveled many places in Asia, and this was my second time in both Singapore and Malaysia where durians are ubiquitous.  On my previous travels, I had definitely heard of this “King of Fruits,” but didn’t really feel the need to try it, but after noticing that it is so popular I really had no choice, now did I?

The front of a durian shop in Singapore's Chinatown.

It certainly doesn’t steel your reserve either to see “no durian” signs all over the place.  This spiky fruit is banned in many office buildings, apartments, buses, subways, trains…they are just not allowed anywhere!

On to the task at hand. We’d just alighted from the ultra-clean subway in Chinatown and whoa!  Right around the corner from the stop was our chance, our chance to try durian.  No second guessing, in I went practically dragging Devon and Jim into the stall where the waiters were not only passing out plates of durian, but they were also giving everyone those thin plastic food-handlers gloves as well.  This point, all by itself, was enough to dissuade my ever-cautious husband.  With eyebrows high, he looks at me, silently asking, pleading me to give up the chase and just pass on by.  Nope!  I was determined.  We were going to taste durian right here and right now.

Durian vendor cutting fruit

A Chinatown vendor carefully cuts open the durian to expose the fatty packets of fruity goodness.

Jim, to his credit, heaved a huge sigh of defeat and gamely went up to the bank of scooped up durian already pre-portioned.  Many of the customers had two or three of these portions per table, but we really didn’t know what we were getting into, so one portion was enough for the three of us.  We donned our plastic gloves and dug in.  I was immediately surprised at the consistency of the fruit.  It was very soft, with a few strands of sinewy fibers holding it together.  We had to scoop it out with our fingers and bring it to our mouths.

What Does it Smell Like? How Does it Taste? 

Up to this point, we had smelled a faint garlicky, oily smell and it really wasn’t that bothersome, but as we brought the fruit closer to our noses the smell hit us.  A strong odor which reminded me of a mixture of cleanser and soiled diapers sprang forth and accosted my resolve.  All three of us hesitated with the fruit just inches away, but we did a silent “All for one” salute and popped it in.  Devon gave up almost immediately. Durian was not for her.  Jim tried a few mouthfuls, but soon gave up as well.  I was not about to give up.  I was going to finish off my portion.

Durian, the King of Fruit

Jim getting a lesson on how to spot the best fruit.

The first bite is a little unfair, I would say. Because you are just processing the full whiff of the fruit, it hits you like an iron ball in the face.  It really isn’t pleasant.  Your first instinct, is in fact, to get rid of the offending flesh clinging to your fingers.  One good flick…no.  I bought it (and it’s not cheap) so I was going to eat it.

How Do You Eat Durian?

After the first biteful of squishy, fibrousy custard-like fruit the next hurdle was not getting caught up in the texture.  I’m a full crunch kind of girl and overall am just not a fan of shapeless food.  So, yeah, the smell, the texture…now it was time to really taste it.  And to my surprise, it wasn’t bad.  It tasted strong, kind of like garlic or onions or capers or, or, or…I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it wasn’t bad.  I finished off my portion and gave myself a well-earned fist pump! Yeah!

Durian

One portion of durian, enough for four people unless you just love it!

My first foray into the uniqueness of durian was okay.  I’m not sure I would say “good,” but definitely “okay.”  Did I run out and try it again?  No, I didn’t.  I do think I will try it again, and maybe even try a few different varieties, but I would have to enlist the help of some experts, because really we had no idea what we were doing.  I might even be brave enough to join a durian tour, where you can feast on all kinds.  It’s no joke.  These are popular day tours out of Singapore during the season.

I do, however, know why it’s banned.  We kept smelling a very strong odor of durian not only for hours after our taste, but for a couple of days.  That smell, even having used the plastic gloves, gets in your skin and permeates your being.  I dreamt that smell, I’m sure.  After a couple of days, we didn’t smell it on us anymore, but we certainly recognized it in the marketplace or store, wherever it lurked.  We could smell it before we saw it.

Durian is not only found in their natural form, but you can find them as major ingredients in cakes, pancakes, pudding, ice cream, chips, you name it.  No one can dispute the fact that durians are a very sought after fruit!

Have you tried durian?  Would you have it again?  Would you recommend it to your friends?

Do you love fresh fruit? How about trying new foods? Then when in Asia, you must try the King of Fruit - Durian! data-pin-url= Do you love fresh fruit? How about trying new foods? Then when in Asia, you must try the King of Fruit - Durian! data-pin-url=

 

24 Comments

  1. I have never tried it Corinne but I remember last year seeing it cut it open and prepared in a dish in one of those travel shows I watch. I know the hosts always try to put on a stiff upper lip of enjoyment while puckering on the inside. And on this particular show they offered the exact same reaction as you did. I would give it a try at least once. Loved seeing you guys in the pictures on this post!! 🙂

    1. It was a fun experience, Mike. I don’t know if I really got the whole experience. I would definitely have to try durian again. Everyone should try it once, I think.

  2. Hi Corinne, for the best Durian, you should eat them in Malaysia, we are even one of the major exporters to China if i got the information right:)

    In case if you will try again, please check out “Musang King”, it is the best among all other variants that i have even tried:)

    Cheers,
    Simon

  3. To durian! This fruit is so popular in China. You can get it from anywhere and it’s so cheap. I’m personally not a big fan of it, but have it from time to time as my snack :).

  4. It’s a national pride/culture thingy. The most durians I ate in one sitting is probably 4 large whole durians. I mean the french love their cheese, we love their durians.

  5. I love this story! I think you commented on Twitter last week when I decided to buy some sweet durian wafers at my local Vietnamese market. I did — and I just put them in the garbage 🙂

  6. Oh I LOOOOVE durian!! But of course the fresh ones, not the fronzen ones! Many people prefer it as an ingredient in cakes or drinks, but personnaly nothing tops the fruit itself. Two weeks ago I tasted (for the first time) some green-tea mochis with fresh durian inside at a local market in Hong Kong. It was simply delicious! 🙂

  7. I lived in China and Singapore and there are many Durian street stands. The smell is just unbearable. I did try it but I just couldn’t not get over the smell. I do know people who love it. I guess it is a question of personal taste.

  8. Your description made me laugh! I remember an Anthony Bourdain episode where he described the smell as “dirty diaper”. I don’t think my stomach is strong enough for this adventure!

  9. Corinne you are brave. It smells horrific. Hotels we stay in ban it sometimes, with images all over telling people not to bring it in. Never tried it but I’ve heard it is….distinctive. I do however love the sweet taste of durian in ice cream and cookies; a full 180 I know but so clean and organic.

  10. Love this post. We’re in Thailand now and will be heading to Malaysia in April. Just last week Lissette told me she wanted to try durian. I won’t share this post with her, I want her to have the no-preconceived-notions taste test 🙂
    I’ve never tried it either, now I’m a bit nervous about just how bad it is. I love custard though…

  11. I ate durian from a roadside vendor in Malaysia near Batu Caves. The whole family loved it. I didn’t know the smell lingered with you. Then again, all four of us ate it so who was going to notice the smell?

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