My First Time with Durian

It's probably not a favorite childhood memory for most people

Cutting away the spiky shell reveals durian's creamy yellow interior.

When most people sit down and recall fond memories from their youth, they're probably not thinking about durian. They probably reminisce about jumping off swings, horsing around at pool parties with Super Soakers, staying up all night playing Super Mario Brothers, trading Pogs, and getting into Warhead eating contests. (I grew up in the '90s, so Google anything that seems obscure.) And I had all that, too. It's just that to me, the spiky, tropical fruit actually is part of some important childhood memories. It's not an easy fruit for anyone to love, let alone approach, and it was literally years before I had the bravado to approach it myself.

When I was growing up, I used to pass entire summers in Jakarta, Indonesia.

My paternal grandfather, who grew up a farmer in his native country, once owned a durian farm as a hobby. He used to bring home the stinky fruit and set it down on the tile floor of the dining room, lined with newspapers. The dining room was next to a small indoor atrium that served as a garden and was open to the sky save for mosquito netting. So, there was plenty of ventilation.

My first time seeing this fruit was a moment of wonder. Not just at its appearance, which was odd enough (it appeared to be made of wood, particularly unfriendly, and gave no clue as to its contents — Juicy? Sweet? Crunchy? Creamy?) — but also of course its smell, made only worse when he took a cleaver and hacked it in half. At just 6 years of age, I had no desire to try it.

A few summers later, I was back in Indonesia and in his attempt to convince me to try durian, my grandfather took me to his farm in Binong, the small village where he had grown up, located a couple of hours outside Jakarta. I could not have imagined a more otherworldly landscape if I had tried. Tall, cone-shaped trees dominated a field of mud, and above us, a web of netting stretching from tree to tree kept the workers from suffering death by durian, a very plausible possibility when working with 10- to 12-pound bowling balls that fall when ripe. (Photo courtesy of flickr/Vietnam Plants & America plants)