Have you heard of Durian?
We hadn’t until we went to Malaysia. It’s a large fruit (around the size of a rugby ball) which is covered in spikes and native to South East Asia. It’s not often seen here in the UK and I suspect that’s due to one reason – its smell.
During our time in Penang (and Singapore to a lesser extent), the locals’ dedication to the Durian was hard to miss. On almost every corner you’d find sculpture, specialist shop or tourist attraction awaits. Durian was also available in every format imaginable. From sweets to ice-cream, cakes and even coffee!
Given its rancid stench, we found it odd that the people we met and saw in Penang and Singapore love it so much. The smell is so bad that it’s actually banned from public transport and we were warned at our hotels that if we were caught with it in our rooms, we’d be heavily fined!
What does it taste like?
Durian is a big spiky fruit with creamy (banana-esque) flesh inside. We decided to give it a try in a small cake. It seemed a nice introduction to this fruit which is so revered by locals. During a visit to Chew Jetty we spotted a shop selling all things Durian – ice cream, cakes and sweets. and opted for their famous ‘Durian Puff’, a small choux pastry filled with durian extract cream.
Initially, the taste is creamy, almond-ish and sweet but with a savoury edge (almost like onion). Once eaten, though, it leaves a foul afternote on your tongue (and breath!) which stays for ages. I think if you didn’t have a sense of smell, you’d enjoy it for its sweet creamy taste but for me, I couldn’t get past the aftertaste!We also tried this Penang Durian coffee (below). Dave expected that he’d get the taste without the smell, but actually, it was still was so overpowering that he had to throw it straight down the sink! We were nervous we’d get in trouble. As if a sachet of coffee could smell so bad!!
Why does it smell?
I particularly like Anthony Bourdain’s quote on the subject. He apparently said it was “indescribable, something you will either love or despise… Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Apparently, the reason it smells is the particular chemical composition. 50 different chemicals including those found in natural gas, cooked cabbage and onions combine to give this unique smell. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of why Durian smells like it does, this article by David Wolfe, a nutrition expert.
I love that in this day and age, when everything is available anywhere, anytime, we discovered something new. And that’s why I love to travel. I want to find new things and eat flavours I’ve never imagined. I’m not saying I’m in a rush to eat Durian again but I’m glad I tried it.