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The Durian

King of Stench


View China-08 on myrrhlin's travel map.

Tuesday afternoon, 4/29, at the supermarket, Zhexiong had picked up a durian. The tropical durian trees are native to Indonesia and Malaysia, but is now grown from Philippines to Australia, with the largest exporter being Thailand, where the fruit is particularly revered. I've never seen one, or even heard of it, in the US or Europe.
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The durian's often called (not only by genius marketers) the "King of Fruits", and it is certainly superlative in several ways.

First, it's big and heavy. And dangerous. They weigh as little as 2 pounds, up to 10 or more, and grow to more than a foot long, and nearly the same in diameter. They are vaguely shaped like an acorn without its hat, or perhaps a football, but I wouldn't recommend trying to pass one, or worse, catch it. Durians are covered with sharp, sturdy spines, and cannot be readily handled without gloves or some other tool, except by their stems (and often too heavy to be picked up that way). In some chinese action movie (or perhaps it was Jackie Chan), Zhewei remembers seeing these things being thrown as weapons, and they would certainly do formidable damage to an unarmored person.

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Second, and more famously, these things _stink_. To someone who's acquired the taste, their strong aroma may be mouth-watering, but if you've never been around it before -- the smell is something like, well, a rotting carcass covered with honey. Frankly it's hard to describe, but in my opinion it's disgusting, vile. And did I say strong? The smell filled the entire floor of the Carrefour where I saw this for sale. When we came up the escalator, far from the fruit section, and I really thought to myself, "What is that awful smell?" And these fruit were not yet opened! This fruit is forbidden on airplanes, subways, and other forms of mass transit all over Asia, though not universally. Upper-class hotels forbid these things being brought inside, too.

I have tasted this fruit twice, and both times, found it easiest to literally hold my nose while putting it in my mouth and chewing. That is not enough to prevent the stench, of course (it still reaches your nose from the back side!), but does limit its impact somewhat and give you a chance to taste the fruit.

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On Wednesday, Zhexiong opened the one we bought. The stench grew stronger. The body of the fruit splits into sections, and in smooth pockets between sections are the large seeds. The seeds are surrounded by a creamy yellowish-white goo, cushioning them in their pockets, and it this goo that one eats. I think connoisseurs really appreciate the texture, smell, and flavor all together. [I think Asian palates, generally, appreciate textures of foods a lot more than western ones do. Some rather bland foods are enjoyed almost entirely for their texture.] It's hard for me to appreciate the durian. I need more exposure, however much I dread the thought.
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Apparently the seeds can be roasted and eaten as well, but I've never tried one.

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Posted by myrrhlin 04:58 Archived in China Tagged food

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