The Delectable, Detestable Durio Zibethinus:
No other food smells so bad or tastes so good, as the fascinating Durian. Looking like a giant, olive colored hand grenade, its effects are nearly as startling as the weapon it resembles. The smell of the outer flesh of the durian is not pleasant -- to those with sensitive noses, it smells downright repellent. One can only pity those who cannot overcome this fragrance hurdle, since the taste....
Almost unknown in the west, because durian quickly deteriorates, it was first discovered by Europeans in the 16th century. The traveler Linschott. writing in I599, says: "It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world''. Doctor Paladanus, in the 17th century, said: ''This fruit is of a hot and humid nature. To those not used to it, it seems at first to smell like rotten onions, but immediately they have tasted it, they prefer it to all other foods. The natives give it honorable titles, exalt it, and make verses about it.''
The durian grows on a large forest tree in the south of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where rain falls year round. The fruit is oval, about the size of a coconut. covered all over with short, stout spines the bases of which all touch each other, with the points strong and sharp. It is so completely armed, that if the stalk is broken off, it is difficult to lift one from the ground.
The outer rind is so thick and tough, that from whatever height it falls, it never breaks. It is so a common occurrence to be hit on the head by one of these very heavy fruits. Although never lethal, the scalp is always badly lacerated by the points, and the headache it produces lasts quite some time!
Within the outer rind are five cells of satiny white flesh, within which are embedded two or three seeds about the size of chestnuts. This pulp is the edithle part, and its consistence and flavor are indescribable. A rich butter like custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavor that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce and vanilla. There is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.
It is neither acid or sweet, or juicy, but durian does not need these qualities -- it is perfect. As has been said by early western explorers ''To eat durians, is a new sensation worth a voyage to the Orient to experience."
If the smell of the whole fruit is too overpowering, why not try it as a dessert, popular at this time of year. Durian fruit, sticky rice and coconut cream are surely as close as one can get to Ambrosia -- the food of the gods!
Sadly, you are unlikely to find Durians on the menus of hotels or airlines -- the smell is so strong that it is believed many customers would be offended.
Do hold your nose and try some -- the locals love to eat Durian -- and love almost as much watching foreigners' theatrical responses after sampling this curious fruit.