Automated note: This post was written more than 16 years ago and I have probably not looked at it since.
Older posts may not align with who I am today and how I would think or write. In particular, some of my oldest posts (high school and college age) are fairly cringeworthy in places, or are in reaction to a cultural context that no longer applies. However, I have left them public because I believe in keeping old web pages alive, and it's interesting to look back and see how I've changed.
(And if there were nothing I wrote 10 years ago that I disagreed with today, what would that say about me?)
Welcome to the first installment of "Godammit, Tim!", wherein I eat what is commonly considered the most foul-smelling fruit on the planet: a durian.
I bought a durian as an impulse purchase at an Asian foods store. The only thing I knew was that durians smell bad but taste good. From Wikipedia:
... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.Travel and food writer Richard Sterling
A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace
Let me be perfectly clear here. A good durian tastes absolutely divine, according to enthusiasts. This is not a "good durian". A good durian's stem should still be solid and even somewhat juicy. Mine's stem is cracked and shriveled. A good durian should be consumed once it has begun to crack slightly along a seam. (This is considered overripe in some cultures.) My durian is beyond overripe, having sat out overnight after I found it already cracked, sitting semi-chilled in the store.
Here's what I have going against me:
- Durians smell bad. Really bad.
- Durians are spiky.
- The first time anyone eats a durian, they usually don't like it.
- A nose.
- Taste buds.
And here is what I've got in my favor:
- It is cold out, so many of the volatiles will not be released.
- My enjoyment will be artificially boosted by the fact that I paid a lot for the damn thing.
- I eat strange things anyway.
These are not what you'd call "strong arguments".
I set up my workstation and get started. As mandated by the heads of the household, I am to work at least 12 miles from any sign of human habitation. We are able to arrive at a compromise: the porch. Mindy (bless her heart) helps me set up and agrees to carry on (with the documenting) should I fall.
I had wrapped the durian in two plastic bags to protect it from marauding fox squirrels. (This had the unfortunate effect of hiding the surprisingly sharp thorns, so when Mindy's brother came home and saw what appeared to be a package to be taken indoors, he received two palmfuls of pain.) I begin to unwrap it and record my sensations.
When the first bag comes off, I get a whiff of moldy apples. Not too bad. The removal of the second bag adds mildew and bananas. I spread the bags out to prevent durian innards from contaminating the porch, and remove the plastic clasp that secure the 5-pound fruit.
The durian jabs at me angrily as I attempt to peel away the thick yellow mesh to which it clings tenaciously. Once I have firmly seated it on the plastic bags, I am confronted by a blue ribbon. Apparantly, this is a blue-ribbon durian. I'm not sure what qualifications they were using. Would a second-rate durian smell better... or worse?
Oh, the stench!
Wikipedia says that I should be able to dismantle the durian with my bare hands, starting at the fissure. I give the spikes a dubious look. Placing my fingers into the fissure, I find that with a lot of straining, I can widen the opening. I hadn't realized just how soft the flesh is, beneath the tough spikes. As the half-centimeter skin splits, a gorgeously rank odor wafts out. Against my better instincts, I give the flesh a good sniff. The mildew proceeds to crawl up my nose and die.
Mindy observes that it smells like tropical fruit that has been on a year-long sabbatical behind the dishwasher. But the stench is rather indescribable in everyday terms. (Understandable, because this is not your everyday fruit.) I can describe it more precisely as an unexpected blend of fruity esters and organosulfates.
Mindy says the smell reminds her of kim chee, without vinegar. She doesn't like kim chee.
A full segment is exposed now. It falls in half, looking for all the world like an extraterrestrial larva. Time for a taste. Mindy manages to procure a plastic spoon, non-disposables being off-limits for fear that the durian will contaminate all that it touches. (This does not bode well for any recipe ideas I might have.)
Video was accidentally permanently deleted. Description: Tim scoops a bit out of durian flesh out, takes a tentative bite. Goes to hold nose, looks a bit nauseated, chews a bit. Swallows. Brightens up, faces the camera. "Not that bad!" Goes for more.
Aside from the foul aftertaste every time I breathe, it has a rather pleasant flavor. The taste is most similar to any overripe tropical fruit, not unexpectedly. But every time I open my mouth or breathe, the faint fruitiness is replaced by damp mildew, that spidery black stuff in the grout next to the shower. I am reminded of the time some friends of the family discovered large mushrooms growing behind their leaky dishwasher.
Surprisingly, Mindy goes for a bite. "Moldy onions," she says after a moment of uncertain grimaces. She doesn't like onions.
I decide that cheese would go well with onion. A large brick of cheddar ought to do it. Perhaps I could hit myself with it until I lose consciousness. As it is, I have a job to do. Ignoring the protestations of weak-spirited (and weak-stomached) members of the household, I walk to the kitchen, trailing eau de durian behind me. I slap together some cheddar and bread, slather on durian (texturally similar to congealed mustard), and we're good to go!
Video was accidentally permanently deleted. Description: Tim describes sandwich ("Alright, what we've got here is extra-sharp cheddar cheese, however-many-grain bread, and... well, durian."), takes a few bites, and chews for a while. "You know, I can only really taste the durian." More chewing. "This cheese just isn't coming through for me." Takes another bite. "At all."
Each time I eat a piece, it is slightly less objectionable, and my tongue is slightly less infuriated at me for shoving what seems like rotten-onion-slime-on-cheese into my mouth. Perhaps I am getting used to it. Or perhaps the involved nerves are committing seppuku. In any case, the durian is overwhelming. I had hoped the cheddar could somehow work with the durian synergistically, in much the way sunlight and manure conspire to create a tomato plant. Sorry, folks, we're stuck with overpowering manure, here.
I am grateful when that I am done with my sandwich. Mindy has long since escaped indoors to do her own writeup of the experience. I realize that I have only seen one segment (of five) of the fruit, and I haven't even touched the half of the segment that fell away at the beginning. Of the half-segment I've poked at, I've only eaten one half. That means I'm approximately 5% of the way through the durian, and it isn't even a big one! Now, I don't have any particular regret about wasting the rest of this magnificently repulsive chunk of ostensibly edible vegetable matter, because frankly, it is rotten.
I do get to play with it now. Each pair of shell sections cradles a flesh segment, each of which contains 1 to 3 seeds. The segments fall out like plump, juicy caterpillars.Video was accidentally permanently deleted. Description: Swooping closeup of "alien larva" scene, with one segment fallen in two.
Since my dad is a botanist, I mine the segments for their seeds. I get twelve seeds and a pile of goo. By now, I'm fairly used to the smell, which is unfortunate, because I realize I've been absentmindedly wiping my hands on my pants.
I plan to grow a durian tree, just to see what it looks like. I hear the leaves can be quite tasty.
This piece was inspired by "Steve, Don't Eat It!", a series on The Sneeze. (Steve had nothing to do with this post, though, and should therefore take none of the blame.) Please, do stupid eating safely.