Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's Durian Time...

July is one of the best months in my year for there are no classes to teach, and much of Malaysia's fruit harvest occurs in this month.  One fruit, about which I am quite ambivalent, is the infamous durian (Durio spp.), which is called The King of Fruit in Malaysia.  It has been described many times by many western writers in such terms as "smells like the toilet; tastes like garbage".

The name 'durian' comes from the many spines (duri) that cover the shell of the fruit.  A former Malay neighbor of mine said that elephants would open a durian by rolling the shell over dry leaves until the duri were covered and then step on the fruit, splitting it open.  He also described observing -from a jungle tree hideout- a tiger rip one open using his claws and strong upper-body strength.  For us humans, the task is best carried out with a cleaver knife.

On the inside are several partitions, each of which hold an oblong-shaped nut covered with a stringy, fleshy outer coat that has the consistency of a custard and a distinctive taste.  Durian is said to be a "heating fruit" by the Malays, which means it is gassy.  One ends up with durian burps for several hours afterwards, and my wife refuses kisses for the rest of the day!

There are 30 different species of durian (that is what "spp" means in the Latin name), and hundreds of cultivars: variations on species.  The only type of durian that I have enjoyed the taste -and tolerate the smell- is the local kampung-grown durian that is probably a non-hydrid, and cut and eaten the same day.  It is the longer-lasting and Thai-style durian whose smell and taste I abhor.

In addition to eating it fresh, Malays often mix durian into a variety of sauces, breads, and desserts.  Indeed, yesterday, at a Doa Selamat at my college (Prayer for Safety), someone served a durian porridge.  It was not enticing to me, but my colleagues sure loved it.

Yet, durian is loved by many in Asia.  Witness this news report about a Chinese tycoon (Macau) who sent his private jet to Singapore this past week, just to pick up 88 durian (8 is a lucky number in Chinese numerology).  He had to use his private jet because commerical airlines refuse to take the smelly fruit on-board.  In fact, many places in Malaysia post "No Durian Allowed" signs similar to this one.

On my first-ever trip to Malaysia, my daughter (8 years old at the time) and I rode in the back seat of a car that had no air-conditioning AND had taken several durian into its trunk by the driver.  The smell because nauseating after a while, and my poor daughter vomited in the back seat.  To this day, she has never touched a durian, and I am ambivalent -unsure as to my true feelings about the fruit.  I can "take it or leave it", but I am probably better off leaving it!


  1. "smells like the toilet; tastes like garbage"....
    Wow...Oh well... I guess it is very subjective.. being brought up to love durians, Malaysian just could not get enough of them..

  2. Nooo!! Don't leave it. Take it! I miss my durians especially those thick creamy sweet+bitter flesh ones.

  3. Glad to hear that someone likes durian!