Known in Southeast Asia as the “King of Fruits”, the Durian is known for its spiky husk and its strong odour – often described as similar to decaying bodies, onions and raw sewage. The aroma is so overpowering, even when the fruit is still in its husk, that it is banned from public transportation and hotels in many parts of Asia.
No one feels ambivalent about Durian. You either love or hate this fruit, as its smell and flavour are so distinctive and powerful. British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace sampled the fruit in 1856 and wrote about how much he loved it, comparing it to custard flavoured with almonds, onion-sauce, cream cheese and sherry wine. However, other writers haven’t been won over by the taste. The Novelist Anthony Burgess described the experience of eating durian as being akin to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried Durian during my travels in Malaysia – I knew that I would either love it or hate it. The fruit is very popular in this country and it is used as a flavour in many edibles including biscuits, baked goods, ice cream, milkshakes, mooncakes and traditional Malay candy. The dried Durian flesh is even made into chips and eaten as a snack. Those who love Durian, really do love it a lot!
At a night market in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo with some local friends I sampled this fruit for the first time. We bought a large Durian and the seller hacked it open with a big knife, exposing the creamy, soft flesh inside. The smell was pretty strong and it reminded me of rotting compost or body odour. I hesitantly sampled a spoonful of the mushy, cream coloured fruit.
Now, there have been a lot of exotic foods that I have tried on my travels which I have enjoyed – but Durian isn’t one of them. In my opinion, it tastes like the results of someone eating a lot of nice fruit and then vomiting it up again. It’s both sweet, sour and horribly pungent at the same time and the aftertaste is bitter and unpleasant. I’m glad I tried it (travel is all about new experiences) – but I think I will leave the Durians for those who enjoy their unique taste