My First Time With Durian

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.

Photo courtesy of flickr/Vietnam Plants & America plants)

That didn't work either. In the end, it was a combination of boredom and curiosity that got to me. There wasn't a whole lot to do at my grandparents' house — there was nothing particularly interesting on television and there weren't any neighbors who had any kids my age — just a nice old lady next door who owned an old mango tree with honey-sweet fruit. Going outside to play wasn't a particularly appealing idea either because it was often 100 degrees in the summer in steamy humidity. (Not that it was much better inside.) So when I had gotten tired of eating mangos to pass the time, in a fit of madness, I decided to finally try some durian.

It was like that time at the Japanese restaurant when I was surrounded by people eating sushi. (No, not that time Bush Sr. threw up in that Japanese guy's lap.) Everyone was chewing on brightly colored pieces of fish and seemingly enjoying it, so I thought, why not? Jump in, the water's fine! Only my dad intentionally failed to inform me that my piece of shrimp had a huge chunk of wasabi in it. He thought it was pretty funny.

Click here to see What Is... Wasabi?

So this was the same, only without the wasabi, or the crying, or the part involving spitting up half-chewed fish. None of that happened. So, I suppose, all that was left was the wonder. It tasted like really ripe summer peaches, with only the sweetness and none of the tang, and vanilla, and creamy like avocados or softened butter all at the same time. And I also recall a slight burning sensation as it went down my throat. In later years, I would realize that the burning was reminiscent of downing a shot of alcohol. I was hooked.

Sadly, that durian farm is long gone. My grandfather gave up on his crop, unable to keep up with cheaper, better-tasting durians from Thailand which were flooding the market. He still owns and maintains to this day several other crops and a fish farm, but he is a durian farmer no more. His love of durian endures however, and he continues to indulge in the fruit whenever there are people to share it with.

So there you have it. If you ever want to get someone to try durian, lock them up in a hot house with nothing else to eat or do except durian. Everyone caves eventually. Even kids.

Click here to see Why Durian Smells Bad.

Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.