Durian madness!

Tim McCormack pretends to bite a durianTaking a bite out of a durian

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.

Introduction

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.
  • Eyes.

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".

Setting up

Durian and laptopMy workstation setup

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.

Closeup of the rindSpikes of DOOM!

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.

Removing clasp from the durian bagUnleashing the durian

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.

Blue ribbon from bag"Selected" durian?

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!

Crack in the huskCracked Starting to peelPeeling was surprisingly painless

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.

Eating it

Section of fruitLooks like an alien larva Spoon in durian

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.

Exposed seedIt has seeds! Lord help us.

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.

Stringy bits of durian flesh

Surprisingly, Mindy goes for a bite. "Moldy onions," she says after a moment of uncertain grimaces. She doesn't like onions.

Making a durian sandwich

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."

Durian and cheddar sandwich

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.

Play time!

Half a durian

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.

Half a durian, showing sectionThe alien larva in its pod The 5-sectioned huskThe husk split easily along the middle of each section

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. GooEven less appetizing, somehow Seeds of DOOM

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.

Holding up durian like a trophyPortrait with durian

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.


Responses: 20 so far Feed icon

  1. Kat says:

    I tried a durian once. Once. Why? Because 1) it looked really cool, and 2) someone had told me how unspeakably awful it was.

    It tasted like onions and death. Mostly death. I ended up washing the taste out of my mouth with a huge glass of Fresca, and then it was weeks before I could stand to drink Fresca again...

    Hey, you ate more of yours than I ate of mine. Good show!

  2. Jacqui says:

    Tim, I hate to tell you, but there's no way in hell this is the first installment. :-P

  3. Tim McCormack says:

    Jacqui: Yes, but this is the first published installment.

  4. Tim McCormack says:

    By the way, if anyone wants to write a perl script to recover files starting with the string /RIFF.{4}AVI/ and ending with the sequence /((00dc|01wb).{12}){5,}/, you can see the videos. I spent all day with grep, dd, and foremost, but was unsuccessful.

  5. Jeff McCormack says:

    Well Tim, you've now blown your cover! From now on, no more protests about bad smells when you are home, and no more lifting your T-shirt up over your nose to keep the smell of certain foods away (like cooked buckwheat groats).

  6. Cory Capron says:

    GODDAMMIT, TIM!!!

    Someone had to say it, and I'm probably the only one reading who both knows the orgin and was actually a witness to it.

    I think this one-ups the time I took a bite out of a raw salmon... and I'm not talking sushi. Though that habanero I ate has to at least be a draw.

  7. Theadeaus AKA AkiraShima says:

    I WANT SEEDS!

  8. Tim McCormack says:

    @Dad: Alright, but I'm still not taking out the compost.

    @Cory: Oh, the Great Dismal Swamp. Canoeing among the snow, red maple blossoms, waves, bamboo, and cypress knees. Starting a fire from a wet log, a nearly empty lighter, a homework assignment, and a tree branch. Nearly being shot by a campfire. Those were the days...

    @AkiraShima: Well, we'll see what we can do. I've got a bunch of 'em, so I'll leave some with Mindy. The others I plan on growing myself. Maybe I should bury a few in unattended indoor plant pots wherever I find them. Durians for all!

  9. Cory Capron says:

    Yeah... good times...

    But let us not forget the hunting of river rats... those suckers were eating size!

  10. Tim McCormack says:

    Or the flaming hands!

  11. Cory Capron says:

    It always did feel off if I made it through an overnight trip with LEC where I didn’t get soaked, set afire, or both.

  12. Waldo Jaquith » Blog Archive » Tim eats a durian. says:

    [...] “It smells like tropical fruit that has been on a year-long sabbatical behind the dishwasher.” [...]

  13. Waldo Jaquith says:

    I once ate a "Banquet Hearty One Boneless Pork Rib with Mashed Potatoes and Corn."

    Minor edit by blog author 2006-3-23 20:55: add correct domain to link URL

  14. Tim McCormack says:

    @Waldo: “oddly crunchy”. shiver

  15. cvillenews.com » Blog Archive » Blogging Round Up says:

    [...] Bob Gibson memorializes his daughter Stella’s dearly departed chicken, Funky. Michael continues his ongoing story of his recent week in Spain. Cory tells us all about Buddhist filmmaker Takashi Miike. Patience is “pissed off that two of [her] kids live with the threat of violence every school day”. Anoop Ranganath ate an apple and it really hurt. Mike relates the story of a friend who is the literal poster child for UVa’s financial aid program who just left school in his fourth year because he can’t afford tuition. Bill Emory provides the history of one particular piece of land in the Woolen Mills, tracing it back to 1870. Scott Johnny had one of those small-town moments that are obvious to locals, shocking to newbies. Sally’s neighbor on Stribling has feral pit bull puppies that wander around the street foraging for food, and animal control won’t do anything. Maiaoming names five blogs she’d create if only she had the time. Jennifer, inspired by Anne Metz’ recent Starlight Express trip, took the shuttle herself, and judges it so-so. Ryan is a little freaked out by Mark Warner’s visage. Mayor David Brown is digging the changes at Reid’s. (Side note: I once saw a candidate for office take a swipe at Reid’s; the audience turned on him at that very moment.) Tim McCormack consumed the most disgusting-smelling fruit in the world, the durian, and lived to blog about it in excruciating detail. Jordan Conley, new to town, doesn’t know what to make of the crazy guy’s signs on Park Street. And, finally Bryan McKenzie figures that neither Vance High nor Joan Schatzman come off well in their spat. [...]

  16. 750 Volts » Lotsa Random says:

    [...] A blogger goes on about eating a durian fruit. Durians are the large, spiky, smelly fruits that look like deformned pineapples to the untrained eye. They are a tropical delicacy and can be found where there are other bizarre tropical fruits. [Ganked from Waldo] [...]

  17. Tim McCormack - personal blog » Blog Archive » Paw-paw flower buds! says:

    [...] Paw-paw (Asimina triloba) trees produce large, mis-shapen fruits that have a generally turd-like appearance. Also known as custard apples, they have a strong, almost sickly sweet odor that repulses some people but attracts others. And no, this isn’t going to be a repeat of the infamous durian incident. Paw-paws are a well-established, reputable fruit. [...]

  18. George Wyche says:

    @Tim

    Thanks. The Durian was the only fresh produce in the Chinese store here in Austin, TX that none in our party of 3 recognized. They had maybe 30 for sale that were the spitting image of yours.

    My curiosity is sated.

  19. Tim McCormack says:

    Don't let your curiosity be completely sated. If they don't smell horrible, you may be one of the lucky few who will enjoy a durian. (Some people can't smell or taste a certain durian compound, I think.)

  20. VietPho says:

    I've been eating a Durian ever since I was 9 years old...

    It tastes fine to me!

    But then again, maybe it's because I'm asian. (ABV)

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