By Rani Chehal-Bassi
Durian (aka ‘The King of Fruits’), is a delicacy to most Southeast Asians and grown in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and small estates in Singapore. Other, smaller durian-growing regions include India, Vietnam, Burma-Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Philippines, Florida and Hawaii.
If you’ve traveled to Southeast Asia or even strolled through your city's Chinatown, you have likely seen that the unique durian fruit can measure up to 12” high and 6” in width. It is pale greenish yellow, oblong, and has a very spikey exterior. It can be found in most markets and roadside stands throughout Southeast Asia in the spring and summer seasons.
The controversy is very bizarre, because it’s a very “love it or hate it” fruit. It is infamous for its odor that can be present, even if the fruit is uncut. People liken the smell of durian to dirty, sweaty socks, gutter water and having the texture of rotten bananas. However, some people love it and think it’s worth dealing with that, in order to eat durian. Once you penetrate it, they say that it really doesn’t stink anymore. On occasion though, the smell is known to linger long after it's consumed. Inside its formidable exterior, it has large pockets of flesh. It is velvety in texture, fibrous but smooth and soft as a peach. Pleasing to some and disgusting to others, durian's taste is definitely debatable, but most durian lovers say that it has a sweet, custard-like taste.
Due to its smelly reasons, there are “no durian allowed” signs presented throughout Asian cities. They are prominently displayed on most of the mass transit and subway systems. Singapore, which is notoriously known for giving fines for subway infractions like eating and smoking, imposes no financial consequences for carrying durian, but you will get a proper scolding if discovered. Hotels from Hong Kong and Singapore to Thailand and Vietnam forbid bringing durian into their establishments also. Fines for bringing in the forbidden fruit can be pretty high as well. At the New World Saigon Hotel, bringing durian into the luxurious hotel results in a US$200 fine.
When is being enjoyed by locals, it is typically served alone. It is also found in many variations around the world. There are durian chips and juice in Jakarta, Indonesia to durian ice cream at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory in New York or Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore. There are even durian rice dumplings and durian pancakes at Honeymoon Desserts in Hong Kong, and durian bubble tea found in Chinatowns all around the globe.
No matter how durian is disguised or fixed up, there’s no mistaking that this distinct culinary experience that any foodie in the world should try.