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Hi, welcome to my blog. I'm a writer of poetry, prose and plays but my best known work is children's fiction. My most popular books are the Selby series and the Emily Eyefinger series. This blog is intended as an entertaining collection of thoughts and pictures from here in Australia and from my travels in other parts of the world. I hope you enjoy it. (For more information have a look at my website.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Durian, the king of fruit?

Everyone should try durian---once. I've now had it five times: twice as the fruit itself, once in durian flavoured ice cream, once in durian cream puffs and, recently in Bali, as a durian milk shake.

The first time was as durian ice cream at a Thai restaurant in Sydney and it was...well...okay. Actually, not bad. The ice cream part was good anyway. The next time was as the fruit itself when I was staying in Singapore. I was still neutral after this although I had to deal with embarrassing durian burps for the next 24 hours. Since then I've had durian a few more times and each time it gets more and more revolting.

Durian's spiky outer shell
Can anyone seriously claim to enjoy it? 

This is what's inside.
I've struggled to imagine why any sane person (and sane may be the key) could possibly call it "the king of fruits", as some people do. Durian defenders will admit that the smell is appalling. Hotel lobbies in South East Asia have signs prohibiting guests to bring it into the hotel. One whiff and the other guests would stampede for the exits. 

A Singaporean friend described it to me this way: "It's like sitting on the toilet and eating custard." Now if we change the word "custard" to...no, let's not.

The smell is nothing short of revolting.
Not only are there durian aficionados on the loose out there but some people will pay top dollar for it. When we were in Penang, Malaysia, last year there was a durian festival in the local sports ground. I wanted to go just ask a few people what the stink (so to speak) was about but Jill thought better of it and we visited a butterfly farm and later had our feet nibbled by little fish.

Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
The famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, while collecting flora and fauna in Borneo in 1856, wrote this about durian :

The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.

Here I am a year later in a different country (but wearing the same shirt) choking
down a durian milkshake while wistfully eyeing a glass of delicious guava juice.
I'm a fan of Alfred Russel Wallace. He was, after all, the discoverer of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. We would all have studied him at school but for the fact that Charles Darwin intercepted Wallace's manuscript and held up its publication so he could dash off his own tome and get it published first. Wallace could have been rich and famous, been alternately worshipped and reviled, and maybe even lived to see his book banned by educators in Tennessee.

But describing durian's "exquisite flavour" as "highly flavoured with almonds" and "wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine" sounds like he's writing tasting notes for a new release sauvignon blanc rather than something scooped out of a blocked drain. I can only think that he'd spent too long in the tropics or that he was so sick of nasi goreng that even durian tasted good. But I like to think he just had a wonderfully ironic sense of humour or that he was trying to tempt Charles Darwin to overdose on durian in punishment for his treatment.

I decided to give this a miss.
Now if they ran it through a civet first, I might be tempted.
Can anyone tell me how I've gone wrong? Should I have put sugar on it? Sauteed it with monkey brains? Maybe a fortnight-long fast would have changed my opinion of it. Anyway, leave me a comment if you think I've missed the durian boat.

I've made a "HONK IF YOU LIKE DURIAN" bumper sticker and am about to drive through Sydney just to see if I get a response. I suspect it'll be an unusually quiet drive.

Now mangosteens are another matter. They really are the king of fruit.

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