So here’s an anecdote to share at a future party when I don’t have any other verbal trick up my sleeve. I went to the Prince Edwards Square market the other day in search of some crazy berries to feed on and I came across a stand (followed by about 40 identical stands) piled high with durian. I’ve seen this guy in many a travel show and I’ve heard about its legendary animal carcass odor and custardy texture. While beloved by almost the entire content of Asia, Westerners just don’t seem to have any kind of tolerance for it. Not Bourdain, not even Zimmern could handle it – the aversion was immediate and obvious.
I thought I could be the exception to that rule and my willingness to try anything once drew me to the stand, where I looked at the old lady and took a breath, knowing this would be a difficult one to explain. “Piece.” Hand gesture for “piece,” or “part of a whole.” She repeated and took what was probably the biggest one in the pile. I asked “How much?” and she said “Seven” so I pointed 7 fingers to make sure it wasn’t 70 or 17 and she nodded. “Piece, not *rounded gesture for whole*” I gestured making sure she knew that I was in no way planning to purchase the entire thing, being 99% sure I was going to hate it. “No,” she said and nodded. I already knew at that point, when the knife slid into that big pointy ball of gross that I was buying the whole thing. But I thought I’d try. My companions didn’t get this and were intent on not paying because they felt it was unjust to them. She obviously knew we wanted a piece and maybe she had no way of explaining that the fruit was expensive and that cutting into it just for a piece would be wasting her product. A young Asian-American couple walked by and asked if we needed help. When we explained the situation, with the visibly pissed off old lady forcefully pushing her stinky produce into us, the young girl made it pretty obvious that if we didn’t buy the whole thing (for 70, of course…) there would be problems. Finally I decided it was worth not ruining the day over. At least I got the chance to try it and do a little tourist photoshoot with it. Here it is:
And yeah, it wasn’t very good. As a fruit – and that’s important, AS A FRUIT, my Western palate rejected it. I need my fruit to be firm (too soft and I instinctually suspect it’s rotten) and at least a tiny bit sour (too sweet and I suspect it’s rotten). Unless its a banana. But that’s another story. The odor of this thing hits you immediately and it lies somewhere between sewage and stale vomit. There’s no wonder it is illegal to take one of these on the subway in Singapore. The texture is a bit like a rotten avocado, a slimy skin covering the custardy thick mushy meat within. The flavor is surprisingly not as bad as expected, although to get to that you need to deal with the texture first which may ruin the experience of tasting it before you even put a slimy was of it in your mouth. For me it was way too sweet, a sickly, rotten, fermented sweet which my paranoia for salmonella immediately pushed me away from. But actually, spread on toast with a generous amount of coarse salt to balance the sweetness, it might not be so bad. Something to consider for lunch tomorrow? Maybe not….