The Durian Experience

The Durian Experience
The Durian Experience

ABABI, Indonesia — If stinky cheese were a fruit, it’d be durian.

At a market outside the royal water palace at Tirta Gangga, a vendor offered three young durian specimens among her many wares. (It was clear durian wouldn’t be as pleasant as rambutan, snakefruit and marquisa telur kodok.)

Realizing I wouldn’t always have the chance to taste the fabled fruit for 250,000 rupiyah (less than $3), I approached the warung with some trepidation.

Yunus’s words on durian came to mind:

“It smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.”

Durian, if you’ve never crossed paths with it, is a tree fruit that resembles a spiky football, oblong with spiny protrusions. But that’s not its most notable quality, the smell.

Calling it a smell is an excercise in objectivity.

Josh told me of a Filipino tourist staying at one of Jakarta’s top hotels who, astounded by how cheap durian is here, loaded up on the stuff and boxed it for his trip home. Within hours, security went door to door, seeking the offending durian afficionado who managed to stink up several floors of the luxury hotel and spur complaints by the dozen.

But what does it actually smell like?

Hard to say, but imagine a piercing, slightly rancid tropical fruit after the benefit of reverse peristalsis. Then you might come close to the mere memory of its scent.

So, the woman outside the Water Temple at Tirta Gangga, offered to crack open the fruity porcupine with a machete. Nodding, I handed over the appropriate number of bills and photographed the moment for posterity. You know, in case it were my last meal.

The smell, not quite so bad as when Dian and her mom ate it in front of me at the table and made me slightly queasy, hit me first. Trying to stay upbeat, I focused on the sweet components.

The fruit inside resembled an elongated kidney, slightly yellowish with a hint of gelatinous skin around it.

I dug my fingers into it and performed a fruit-ectomy, trying to look past its stringy, buttery and gritty texture.

Into my mouth it went.

Durian tastes a bit like rotting papaya with less sweetness, akin to a lovely gruyere yet blessed with the consistency of organ meat, probably along the lines of gall bladder and liver — with some stinky cheese thrown in the mix.

Now that I’ve tasted it, though, I don’t know I’ll need to repeat the experience.

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