Durian Drama

Ah yes, the legendary durian. A fruit whose exterior is so violently thorny that people living in the areas where it grows dread to walk under its trees at night, lest they be smashed in the skull by its terrifying form as it plummets earthward like an alien missile sent to obliterate the civilizations of man. Whose tear-inducing stench is so potent that the fruit is commonly banned from public places in its native lands and taxis must sport “NO DURIAN” signs to ensure that the noxious fumes that permeate everything in the fruit’s vicinity do not spoil a week’s worth of fares. Whose gut-wrenching taste can induce such nausea that even “that guy on TV who eats EVERYTHING couldn’t handle it!”1 Yes, the only thing one truly needs to know about durian is that it is so awful that one should never, ever even think about trying it.

Unless you’re one of those people who like it. In which case the durian is so splendidly, magnificently, angelically awesome that the mere sight of its thorny carapace induces uncontrollable, Pavlovian drooling, its stench invokes tears of the purest burning desire, and its taste leads to ravenous, Cookie Monsteresque acts of face-stuffing.2

So when the Gastrognome and I were at our favorite sushi restaurant one night and one of the waiters asked if we wanted to try some durian, the answer was obvious: Yeah, sure—let’s do this! After all, if it’s as good as some people make it out to be, this will be an awesome experience and if it’s as bad as other people make it out to be it will be an awesome story. Win-win!

When the time was deemed to be right (i.e. most of the other customers had left the restaurant), the durian was brought forth so we could have a look at it. And I must say, it’s a pretty intimidating sight—huge and very, very pointy, like some sort of deadly, Soviet attack melon. A chunk was cut from its thorny carapace and a liberal portion of the interior scooped out. The inside looked, if anything, more intimidating than the outside. The exterior at least looked like something that could have been classified as fruit, but the inside was totally unexpected, having the general appearance and color of a flan that had lost its shape. Then came the smell, wafting its way toward us slowly, as though it were thicker than the air around it and thus necessitated a considerably longer time to reach the table than normal, everyday gasses. The aroma carried a definite hint of rotting egg and days-old trash, but was much less extreme than I had been bracing myself for. So far so good. On to the taste test.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the durian once it hit my tongue, which turned out to be just as well, because it was nothing like anything I could have possibly expected anyhow. The texture was something akin to heavy, lukewarm custard with a few miniscule, lightly fibrous strands in it. The taste was very aromatic in a sort of tuberesque way, with a touch of sugary sweetness at the start and a note of peppery spice at the finish encompassing a flavor that reminded me more than anything else of yellow onions that have almost certainly been exposed to summer sun and humidity for just a bit longer than is probably good for them. For me, the most difficult part of eating the durian was without a doubt the moment right after first putting it in my mouth. I had to suppress an instant gag reflex, not because it’s so awful, but purely because it’s such a barrage of opposing stimuli. The brain says “this is fruit” but the eyes say “this is an unknown blob that was removed from the core of a weapon of mass destruction” and the nose says “no, no–this is clearly a rotten egg.” Then your mouth says “this is goopy and kind of melty” and your taste buds say “but onions aren’t melty or stinky or fruit oh my god what’s going on here mommy we don’t understand please why can’t anybody explain why this is happening to us!?” And then your brain comes around again and tells your senses to fuckin’ get it together and it’s alright from there on out.

I have to admit at this point, that I was rather disappointed in the durian. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t really great either though. I decided I would eat it again if it were offered to me, but I wouldn’t go out looking for it either. So it really failed to live up to its legends that night.

But this story does not end here.

You see, since the durian had proven to be relatively inoffensive, or rather, at least not as offensive as we had expected, and it had also turned out to be much larger than expected, we got the chance to take some home. It was packed up for us in a styrofoam container and reinforced with three layers of plastic wrap and a triple plastic bagging job. It rode home with us in the back seat of the car and then we found it a nice little spot in a corner of the refrigerator.

Fast forward 12 hours. It’s the next morning. We’re bumbling around the kitchen, trying to assemble something fun for breakfast. A strange haze seems to be hanging in the air. Are we still just bleary-eyed and disoriented from our recent sleep? The Gastrognome sniffs the air tentatively. “Do you smell gas?”

I wander over to the stove. Everything is turned off. I open the oven. No, nothing. The strange odor is definitely not coming from here. But then where… wait–no, it couldn’t be! A terrible thought is forming in my mind. I tentatively make my way over to the fridge, my suspicions deepening with every step. My hand grips the door and I steel myself before throwing it open like a movie cop spearheading a raid on a meth lab. The roiling fog of stench that pours out instantly ages my face at least 20 years. I stumble backward, blind and desperate. Somewhere behind me, I hear the Gastrognome crying. Somehow, my instinctive flailing manages to knock the door to the refrigerator shut again, but the stench knows no mercy, lacerating our senses without pity as we flee for the safety of the living room with its many windows and ceiling fan.

After taking a few minutes to suck air directly through the screens from the merciful outdoors, we prepare ourselves to dispose of the deadly source of the toxic menace. We creep back into the kitchen, where noxious fumes still linger in the air, though they have lost much of their initial potency. The back door is opened. I take a deep breath and approach the refrigerator. The Gastrognome stands by; upon my signal she opens the fridge and I grab the bag harboring the durian, turning as quickly as I can and sprinting for the exit. The Gastrognome slams the fridge shut behind me in an effort to contain as much of the deadly miasma as possible as I charge madly down the steps of the fire escape to hurl the caustic package into the gaping mouth of a dumpster, where I can only imagine that it continued the process of morphing into a portal leading directly to satan’s butthole that had begun the night before. I know not what fate befell the squirrels that lived in the dumpster, but I try to console myself that I had no choice. Still, I weep at night to think that the most innocent are the ones who suffer the worst horrors of war.

Okay, so that was a bit übertrieben, but it really was one helluva stink. We learned later that the durian had been previously frozen and only recently thawed when we ate it at the restaurant, meaning that it was in a condition that minimizes its… aromatic properties. By the next morning, however, it had returned to a state much closer to its true nature. So would I still try it again? Yeah, probably. Especially if there were some other, unsuspecting person around who could be suckered into doing it too. Would I take some home with me again? Heeeeeeeell, no. Not for a million bucks.3



1Actual testimony of people who I talked to about durian.

2I have seen this in person. While holding my breath, of course.

3Okay, maybe for a million. 😉

5 comments to Durian Drama

  • princesszyrtec

    For the sweet love of the baby Jesus, we need a palate cleanser after your posting. Please get the Gastrognome to post some pics of sweet, sexy food, pre or post eating.

    I’m not opposed to sloppy seconds in this case.


  • gastrognome

    You made me cry with laughter while reading this. And then, I cried with the memory. The horrible, horrible memory.

  • princesszyrtec

    Gastrognome, I too laughed with tears in my eyes after reading this. It evoked memories of reading one of Amon’s travelogues wherein people were ingesting ground glass. Exact same reaction. Laughter and weeping.

    Thank you for your prompt delivery of the aforementioned palate cleanser. As an aficionado of presentation, I particularly enjoyed the serving dishes and flickering candlelight. Well done!

  • I’m amazed anyone got durian through customs. Or was it… dun dun dunnnnn black market durian?

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