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Eating In

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Durian - King of Fruits

The following commentary was contributed by Matt Donath, an expatriate very familiar with Singapore:

durian.jpg (10407 bytes) The durian is almost a cult item in SE Asia. It is a dangerous-looking creature, about the size of a football and covered with sharp strong spikes. They have in fact been used as weapons in some well-publicised cases here. You would not want to mistakenly bump into one.

Fortunately, you are not likely to have a durian slipped onto your chair without warning. You would have smelled it before it came within 100 meters of you, for the fragrance of the durian is its most infamous feature. Its overpowering odour and intoxicating taste make for a fruit that cannot be ignored in Singapore.

Many have tried to describe the odor--gasoline and rotting meat are repeatedly used. In fact, the smell is not so bad. It's just very, very strong. So strong that it is illegal to transport durians on the subway. I can easily tell when my neighbors have opened a durian. Everyone else in the building can also tell. Most foreigners here find it impossible to get past the smell. Some work up enough courage to give it a try and will admit that the taste is superior to the smell (big surprise) but they avoid the fruit ever after. Smell and taste are connected of course. Plug up your nose completely and you can't taste the difference between an onion, a potato, and an apple. So, the only way you can truly appreciate the complicated flavor of the durian is to come to an understanding about its odour.

Many people say you don't really notice the smell of a durian when you eat it, but I say the opposite is true--while eating the durian you start to discern the taste and smell with greater comprehension so you don't find it so overwhelming. You're close to the fruit, intimate with its inner secrets, so strong and sensual. Its heady ripeness and creamy custard flesh draws you in and it does seem to have a slightly intoxicating effect. The taste is unique so I won't even try to make comparisons to other foods.

The Chinese say it is very "heaty," meaning it is full of yang. They shun mixing it with alcohol. I've even been told you can die from the combination, although I did once accidentally drink some alcohol after eating durian and felt no ill effects. The preferred post-durian drink is "cooling" water, often poured into the empty durian husk and sometimes mixed with salt. I've also been told you can rid the durian smell from your fingers by pouring water over the durian shell and use that for cleaning.

You can get durians in Chinatowns in the States, but these are frozen for shipping and have lost their potency along with their pungency. There is no comparison between a fresh durian and one that has been frozen. So, embrace the heady odour, suck the heaty meat clean from the seeds, and be thankful for your chance at the fresh durian.

It may well be nearby at a roadside table, contemplating the grade of my durian with the studious attention of a connoisseur in training. We'll toss our seeds and husks into a nearby wicker basket, watch the world pass by and relish a part of the good life.

Back to Eating in Singapore


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