Durian: King of Fruit & Fruit of Kings

…as the saying goes in Thailand.

Durian is especially beloved amongst the Thai. It’s rich and smooth, with a consistency similar to that of an avocado, and a sweet lush flavor all its own. But you’re forbidden to bring it onto a bus or into a taxi. Nor can you carry it into a public building. Walk into your hotel with a durian tucked under your arm like a football, and you’re sure to be relocating soon. Why?

Because in spite of its flavor, this fruit’s odor is so outrageously rank as to make dog breath seem positively perfumy. Its smell has long strained the bounds of hyperbole for adequate descriptors, including sweaty gym sock and rotten egg….actually rotten anything!

 I was surprised to find this woman selling cut durian on the street, so tightly are its possession and transport regulated.

It’s really large, so you can’t just buy one and munch on it like an apple while you’re out in the open. You have to carve through its thick, spiny exterior to reach the soft, creamy pockets of fruit inside. Its fragrance–odor is more accurate–is most assuredly off-putting, but durian is addictively tasty.

 Here’s the fresh stuff. Durian is creamy, with a consistency similar to that of an avocado, and a sweet delicate flavor.

While durian is available much of the year, the season runs from late spring into early summer, when you can find the best and sweetest specimens. It’s readily available dehydrated and made into a paste, which you can either bake with or eat right out of the tube. Durian is also dried into chips. Think banana chips, but thinner and with more flavor.

 
Durian paste is available in these tubes that are about the size of cigars. The larger size looks like a package of golden cookie dough.
The paste delivers the flavor with only a slight odor.
 
These lovely cakes remind me of Chinese lotus cakes, but they’re filled with durian paste. They’re sweet and tasty with none of the stout odor of the fresh durian.
 
Durian chips are an incredibly popular snack. They carry none of the pungent smell of the fresh fruit.

A couple of years ago I had some ice cream in L.A.’s Thai Town that was made from fresh durian. It was simultaneously sweet and savory, with a back-flavor of garlic. Or was it sulfur? Hmm. No matter, it was intriguing but good. And it makes me consider that old smelly-as-tasty conundrum. Some of the stinkiest cheeses have the mildest yet richest flavors. I don’t understand it, but I appreciate it. The same is true with durian.

I realize I’m not doing much to sell it, but durian is actually a lovely fruit, once you get past the smell. And you should, if you get the opportunity. If you live in a town with a strong Asian presence, chances are the Asian groceries carry it when it’s in season. This won’t provide the best example of how tasty it is, though, since it will have been picked green and shipped halfway ’round the globe. Still it’s worth a try. If your travels ever take you to Thailand–and they should–you should seek it out. But don’t let your nose boss around your taste buds. Let them have their say. If for no other reason, you’ll claim some amazing braggin’ rights!

***The obligatory disclaimer: I went to Thailand as a guest of Thai Tourism Authority. That said, I’m not interested in urging you to stay at particular hotels or to dine at particular establishments or to seek out specific amusements, but rather to enjoy the cuisine, whether you dine in Thailand or in a Thai restaurant in your hometown. And to take a crack at making Thai dishes yourself. There’s much to love about a cuisine so varied and flavorful.

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