Durian: Forbidden or Friendly Fruit?
If you’ve traveled to Southeast Asia or even cruised through your city's Chinatown, you have likely encountered durian. Durian is a pale green and yellow, oblong, spiky fruit that is infamous for its odor, which can be whiffed long before the fruit is seen.
Beloved in Southeast Asia, durian is ubiquitous there; the sweet fruit is found in most markets in the spring and summer, like the night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, and on Khaosan Road in Bangkok.
Pleasing to some and pungent to others, durian's deliciousness is debatable.
"Durian, you know, tastes like rotten onions and smells like feet," said Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods America, whose dislike of durian is well-known.
It’s not just famous foodies like Zimmern who despise the fruit — signs proclaiming "no durian" are prominently displayed in subway systems throughout Asia, although Singapore, which famously has fines for subway infractions like eating and smoking, imposes no financial consequences for carrying durian, which is a no-no.
Hotels from Hong Kong and Singapore to Thailand and Vietnam forbid bringing durian into their establishments, as its smell is known to linger long after it's consumed and can be present even if the fruit is uncut. Fines for bringing in the forbidden fruit are hefty. At the New World Saigon Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, bringing durian into the luxury hotel results in a US$200 fine.
For Zimmern, being a famous durian disliker has prompted a lot of people to cook the fruit for him in a lot of ways in an effort to get him to enjoy it.
"I continue to try it as people around the world push it on me, and I have yet to find any reasonable way to enjoy it except for when I had lunch one day at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C.," said Zimmern in a recent interview with The Daily Meal. "The ambassador there had their chef make me a fermented durian sambal, which is a hot chile condiment with fermented durian to put on roast pork, and that was fantastic. I loved it. I’d eat that every day and twice on Sundays. So I guess I’ve transitioned from a durian disliker to a durian tolerator."
Durian, in all its fruited glory, is typically served alone, but has also found various incarnations around the world, from durian chips and durian juice at a rustic durian-themed restaurant on Raya Panjang Road in Jakarta to durian ice cream at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory in New York. There are even durian glutinous rice dumplings and durian pancakes at Honeymoon Desserts in Hong Kong, which also has outposts throughout China and Singapore.
But no matter how durian is disguised or dressed up, there’s no mistaking this distinct culinary experience.
Lauren Mack is the Travel Editor at The Daily Meal. Follower her on Twiitter @lmack.