The Durian Dare
I recently came across a list of foods on Wikipedia considered to be acquired tastes. While I do agree with many of the foods and beverages on the list (beer, coffee, sushi, wasabi) I also realized there were several things I seem to still lack the taste for (anchovies, capers, Vegemite, lapsong souchong tea) and yet others I’ve always had the taste for (tempeh, calamari and olives). The list included an array of things I'd never heard of nor tasted … for obvious reasons: casu marzu, haggis, Rocky Mountain oysters. Feel free to explore those on your own. I’d rather spare my keyboard the projectile vomit.
However, one item on the list caught my eye: “Durian, a pungent southeast Asian fruit.” Ah, yes. The durian. The fruit has always piqued my curiosity. “The king of fruit,” as it is so commonly referred to as, is probably one of the most unique foods nature provides. I think it was at Talin Market many years ago that I first discovered the durian. I'd never seen such a thing before: a soccer-ball-sized, standoffishly-spiky mass of fruit. What the hell was it? A durian, huh? The name stuck in my brain and ever since the unusual fruit randomly pops back into my consciousness, tempting me to run out and buy one. Alas, I still haven’t. To tell you the truth, the durian kind of freaks me out.
Without a doubt the durian is truly an acquired taste and smell. British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, described the durian’s taste as, “A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine and other incongruous dishes.” Intriguing, no? Sounds a bit rank, but nothing unbearable. My fear lies in the odor. Some go so far as to describe the stench as rotting flesh. Food writer Richard Sterling says, “Its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.” I can’t wrap my brain around this sensorial experience as positive in any way. Durians are even forbidden in many public areas in Southeast Asia due to their stink. Yet the durian has somehow managed to garner a huge fan base. Quite the conundrum. There must be something delicious there. There’s only one way to solve this: I must finally come up against this mysterious beast and see if I too, can acquire its taste.