What’s the obsession with making people eat durian?

Last week, I posted about the Amphawa floating market in Thailand. Although the post was not about fruit, I posted a photo of fruit that sparked a bit of conversation in the comment section. One fruit that is always of interest when talking about southeast Asia was the durian.

A durian is a large fruit with an outside skin of green spikes. I guess the word durian even means “spike.” But most notably, the fruit stinks to high heaven. Like something pungently rotten. A foul stench of a fruit.

However, it is known as “the king of fruit.”

Though I personally don’t think fruit should be gendered and arranged hierarchically.

Apparently it is delicious. And nutritious.

In Canada, obviously I never had a chance to learn what durian was. Even in Japan, I have never seen one here. Only heard about them from other people. Whenever I went to a country in southeast Asia, people would ask me if I tried a durian. Like there is some weird obsession with getting someone who’s never eaten a durian to try it. Maybe just to see/hear about their expression and reaction to the smell. Not sure.

Anyway, I have seen them before in a few different countries in southeast Asia. But I don’t think I have eaten it.

However, I have eaten durian-flavoured things though.

I had durian flavoured hard candies in Vietnam. I couldn’t tell what the flavour was for the longest time, then a few candies later I figured out ti was durian. It wasn’t a terrible taste, but I wouldn’t grant it a crown.

Another time, I bought durian flavoured mini cakes to share with my Taekwondo team. Everybody was a bit apprehensive to try them, but they all disappeared. Again, they weren’t bad, but there was an odd after taste. Still not something I would actively choose over another fruit-flavoured cake.

There is another time in the Philippines where, to this day, I’m not sure what I ate. It was a traditional dish of the Tagbanua people of Palawan. They said it was a type of special fruit, but I couldn’t get the name from anybody. It was a bit white/cream coloured, had black seeds in it, and was an odd texture for a fruit. Sort of creamy. I don’t remember if it stank or not. It may not have been a durian anyway.

Besides that, I have not eaten durian directly.

When I was in Myanmar, I happened to see this pile of of them for sale on the street.

I like patterns when I take photos, and I like this neatly stacked pile of durians. Also the scene of things for sale on the street. (I HDR-ed the photo.)

Of course I didn’t buy one. What am I going to do? But a large stinky fruit off the street, take  it back to my room to taste it and find out it’s just so-so, then have it hang out with me for the rest of my trip, stinking up my room? I don’t think so.

I seriously have my doubts about whether it is truly delicious.

Maybe I shouldn’t jump to conclusions without trying it. I understand that just because it stinks doesn’t mean it tastes bad. But is it really so good that it has earned the title “king?” Why not a pineapple, or even a jackfruit?

I guess it might taste okay, but I’m skeptical that it is amazing. Isn’t part of enjoying what you eat the fact that it smells good too? Wouldn’t the stink already put a negative bias in your head before you even ate it? Then when you did eat it you already expected it would be gross? Does it make people feel special to be able to eat a stinky fruit and call it delicious?

Okay, I think I’m just ranting now.

My point is, I don’t understand the obsession with making people eat a stinky fruit. And I have my doubts that a foul-smelling fruit could truly be delicious.

But mostly, I just wanted a reason to share the above photo.

But, I could be wrong. What are you experiences with durian? Is it really, truly, seriously, amazingly delicious? Let me know if I’m wrong! Maybe I’ll try it someday. Comment below! Please teach me about durian.

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Read: Amphawa floating market in Thailand

Read: The dragon-legged chickens of northern Vietnam

21 Comments

  1. To me durian tasted like custard mixed with onions, with a hint of tropical fruit (and from the outside, it smelt like sulphur or blocked drains!). What I didn’t like about it was that the onion-y aftertaste was really hard to get rid of. I brushed my teeth about five times and couldn’t get rid of it, and it was still there the next day. I’m not sure if i’d try it again for this reason. But some people love it, maybe it’s an acquired taste!

    • Your description does not sound nice at all, especially the smell. It’s hard to imagine anything smelling like sulphur and blocked drains to taste in any way yummy. I feel less inclined to try it.

  2. Hah, for me no stinky fruit, only stinky cheese please 🙂 I am yet to try durian though it is an ubiquitous sight on the streets of South East Asia. Consider me well warned now 😉

    • I even have a bit of a problem with stinky cheese. Or maybe not stinky so much as mouldy cheese. I’ve tried it before, but I have a hard time swallowing it. Physically. It’s like there’s some part of my brain telling my throat to put up the walls and prevent this substance from going any further. Maybe it has something to do with the time I ate a mouldy potato and got seriously sick. Durian is not mouldy though, so maybe I’ll be able to swallow it.

      • You ate a mouldy potato?! Sheesh. It is giving me the shivers even as I write. I once had kerosene as a child if it helps. My mother put it next to a bottle of water and I did not even stop to smell it – just upturned the bottle straight into my mouth and swallowed it. Genius. I burped it for the next 4 days and needless to say it was bloody Awful. Stinky cheese is heaven for me. You can see why 😉

        • Kerosene!? How did you not die? I can’t even imagine how awful and scary that must have been. I simply hate the smell of all those different of gasses/oils. Tasting it must have been horrendous.

          • When you die, it is all over, right? But when you live with it that is the real deal. Four days did the job. I do not even like the smell of kerosene now.

          • Yuck, I can imagine the smell of kerosene must bring back terrible memories. But you survived, and now you have a cool story to tell 😉

  3. I think we gave these as an afternoon snack to our students in Kansas City once? I remember giving them something very smelly and hard to eat and some of them loved it and some hated it. I can’t imagine they were really durian, or at least fresh/good ones but it was definitely some south Asian fruit none of them had ever tried.

    • I can imagine little North American kids being pretty freaked out about a stinky fruit like durian. It’s not a common fruit there, and kids can be very honest and overreactive. It’s cool that they tried it though and that some of them even liked it. It must have been a great teachable moment.

  4. It’s not so bad. I’m not a fan of Durian but I’ve tried it a couple of times. I always believe in trying almost everything at least once. 😊

    • I also believe in trying things before making a snap judgement. Like I just mentioned in the above reply, if I was ever offered a piece of durian, sure I would try it. But right now, I don’t feel compelled to make it a mission to try it. I guess, who knows, maybe it really is delicious, and if I ever tried it I would be put in my place.

  5. Always a Foreigner Reply

    I had the same thought as you while in Southeast Asia…I’m definitely not buying this giant fruit. I wouldn’t even have the ability to open it. I never did taste durian while I was there, but am thinking I must go back to try a tiny bit of this stinky famous fruit.

    • Right. I don’t know how I would open it either. It’s not like I travel with a kitchen knife in my bag. If someone ever offers a piece to me, I’m sure I would try it. But I don’t know if I would go out of my way to taste it.

  6. In Bali as well it’s a big thing… i remember once a chef brought me some to taste, it was in a closed box, wrapped in plastic bags. I put it in the fridge. When my pembantu came to work she opened the fridge and had a big smile on her face because she loved durian. I just smelled my fridge and told her she could have it all. It stinks 😂 . I didn’t try. They say it’s like jackfruit, just stronger in taste. Sarini, my pembantu, couldn’t understand why i didn’t like the smell!!

    • At least somebody was happy about it. I don’t think I would like a stinky fruit hanging out in my refrigerator. I had jackfruit in Vietnam, but I don’t remember it being stinky. Maybe I was asleep when I ate it.

  7. I think South East Asian obsession with durian is likened to French people’s obsession with blue cheese or the Japanese with natto. Everyone has their own quirks and preference 🙂

    • I guess you’re right. I can eat blue cheese, sometimes. Not natto though. My husband likes it. Are you familiar with the stinky tofu of Taiwan? I didn’t know about it until I went to to Taiwan. It’s rank. But I guess people like it because there was a lot of it in the markets. To each their own stinky food.

      • Oh yes, I can eat stinky tofu but I will need to wash myself from head to toe upon returning from the market. My hair reeks the smell of rotten food or intestinal organs. Don’t get me started on fermented skates (S.Korean delicacy) and balut (Filipino delicacy).

        • I haven’t heard about the Korean one. I saw the balut in the Philippines, but I couldn’t eat that. I’m not sure what stinky food I can eat. Maybe I need to be more adventurous with my smelly foods.

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