Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Durian - The King of Fruits

On a cold January evening stroll in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, something caught my attention. Outside of a hole-in-the-wall produce market was a cardboard box full of thorny, light brown objects the size of watermelons. They were durians, the famed Southeast Asian fruits that you either love or hate. I had heard of the durian before, having seen bizarre food enthusiast Andrew Zimmern sample one on an episode of his TV show, Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern, who salivates over pig offal, gags at the smell of durian, which he describes as having the odor of rotten, mushy onions mixed with garbage. The durian in Chinatown looked innocent enough, and it certainly did not smell. I thought to myself, “It’s a fruit. How vile could it really be?” The allure of the durian overcame me and in the spirit of culinary adventure I brought one back to my dorm room.
Outside of Asia, durians are primarily sold frozen to preserve them during the shipping process. The durian I bought was no exception. As I waited for the durian to thaw, I prepared myself for what lay ahead. A quick search online revealed that many rank the flavor of the durian among the best they have ever experienced, while others side with Zimmern, considering it inedible. It is not often that one has the chance to experience completely new flavors, so I really hoped that I would be able to appreciate the durian.
I could not wait any longer. I pulled out a pocketknife and got to work on the partially thawed fruit. As I sliced it open, I could not help but notice that its pale yellow flesh bared an uncanny resemblance to human entrails. When I caught a whiff of the characteristic odor, I began to think that maybe it would taste as rank as I had heard. Nevertheless, I took a spoonful of the creamy flesh, which has the texture of a slightly stringy banana. I promptly spat it out. The flavor was exactly as Zimmern had described it. I took another bite, hoping that I would somehow come to appreciate the taste on my second try. Again, I was unable to swallow it.
I suppose I was not born a durian lover, or perhaps, like many flavors, durian is an acquired taste. In any case, I am glad to have tried it. It is a flavor – and an experience – that I will never forget.

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