In Southeast Asia, you don’t need to go looking for durian. The powerful odour of this boulder-like fruit will find you. Many travellers lose their appetite when the boisterously ripe whiff of durian stings their nostrils. But hold your nose: sampling the iconic ‘King of Fruits’ is a rite of passage and allows you to tap into intriguing aspects of Asian food cultures.
After all, it’s not just the nutritious qualities of durian that make them so highly prized. The fruit’s significance is also reflected in idiom: in Indonesia, unexpected windfalls are compared to ripe durian toppling from a tree. Selecting and eating durian is part science, part art-form, and marvellously sociable. Here’s everything you need to know about this most notorious of Asian delicacies.
Meet the durian
The durian’s distinctive smell is reflected by an equally odd appearance. Durian are spiky green cannonballs; their barbs, duri in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, give the fruit its name. The largest weigh up to 3kg, as heavy as a bowling ball. And for many, a bowling ball sounds altogether easier to digest than this polarising fruit, often described with a euphemistic ‘it’s an acquired taste’.
The prickly greenish skin encloses seeds wrapped in sticky yellow flesh. This edible pulp ranges from butter-soft and creamy to amber-coloured and stringy. To fans, the flavour of durian is warm, nutty, with a back-of-the-throat tang reminiscent of cheese or onions. For durian detesters, it’s a different story: the onion flavour is eye-watering, the fruity over-ripeness cloying, all overshadowed by the pong of raw sewage – hardly tasting notes you’d see on a wine menu.