Saturday, July 14, 2007
Few fruits can be justifiably described as notorious, but the durian is highly deserving of that adjective. It's known widely for its noxious scent, which is best described through an incongruous hyphenate- for me, the durian has a vanilla frosting-burning rubber smell. I'd seen and smelled them often in markets throughout Thailand, being first drowned in their scent before seeing their green spiky shells- but had never had the chance to try one.
But, the more I encountered the pungent smell, the more curious I became. Finally, perhaps inspired by a report on another stinky Asian delicacy at Iamaviking, I resolved to try the durian. I ordered it a riverside cafe in Louang Phabang, as a dessert accompanied by sticky rice. It arrived on my table as a highly fragrant ivory colored pulp, unevenly spread over the mound of sticky rice, resembling the body of a whale decaying on a beach. I tried my first bite, scooping some of the durian away from the rice to taste it on its own. I found that unlike what I had been told, the flavor is not in fact much more subtle than the scent. As the flavor developed in my mouth, I was reminded of the scene in Alice in Wonderland in which Alice describes the successive flavors tasted in the "drink me potion", only to a more extreme form: "nail polish remover.... butterscotch pudding... rotting mango... melk tart... car exhaust fumes!" Bordeaux took two bites and refused to eat anymore, stating with disgust that he actually preferred the smell to the taste. I tried desperately to be open, searching out the more pleasant intricacies of the flavor. After eating several spoonfuls of it, however, I was forced to admit to myself that the overwhelming flavor was rather foul, and the noxious fumes were starting to make my stomach hurt. The custard like texture, which in most guide books is described as one of the fruit's redeeming qualities, actually added to the sense of putrification and rot that the scent and flavor gave off. So, I sadly have to add myself to the list of Westerners for whom durian is an unacquired taste. I can, however, appreciate the taste complexities of the fruit, and will look at durian eaters with an even greater amount of respect.