Reviled by some, worshiped by others, the one thing that is certain about the durian is that it there is absolutely nothing else like it on the face of the earth.
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"It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect...the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience." -Alfred Russel Wallace
"Your breath will smell as if you'd been french-kissing your dead grandmother." -Anthony Bourdain
As these quotes suggest, there's no middle-ground when it comes to the durian. Protected by a thick, hard husk and inch-long spikes, the fleshy sections of the fruit give off an unmistakable and pungent smell. While some may find it aromatic and fragrant, there are others who won't touch it with a ten feet pole. As a result, this fruit is now totally banned from hotels and most buildings with indoor ventilation. It is easy to know if anyone in a building has been secretly smuggling in the fruit as the smell seeps into almost everything and lingers for a day or two.
Though the smell may be offensive, the flavour of the fruit itself is another thing entirely. Strong, bitter overtones soon give way to a seemingly limitless spread of smoother, sweeter flavours beneath: strawberry, custard, butterscotch, banana. As such, it is no wonder that many love incorporating the flesh of this king of fruits into other foods, be it cakes, pastries, desserts like cendol and ice kacang, sweets and even dishes like tempoyak, which is made from fermented flesh of a lower quality durian. As the fruit is seasonal, cakes and pastries using fresh durian are more expensive compared with others.
Much in the same way that wine or scotch appreciation becomes a lifelong and rewarding hobby for some, durian connoisseurs develop tastes for their own preferred varieties (or cultivars) of the fruit, and will travel to restaurants specializing in diverse durian menus to compare tastes and textures and to discover new, hidden subtleties and flavours. These days, durian farmers are beginning to realise the potential of earning extra income by offering durian lovers private tours of their farms to sample some of the freshly harvested durians. Certain farms offer accommodation as well as durian buffets to their visitors, letting them really go all out to enjoy the fruit that they love.
One interesting belief that many Chinese have is that the durian has properties which will 'warm' up the body. One way to counter-effect this is by drinking water poured into the empty shell of the durian. When the Malays say that someone 'mendapat durian runtuh', which literally translates into receiving a falling durian, it usually means that he/she encountered unexpected fortune. Another interesting fact is that the fruit usually falls during the night, as some believe that the fruit has eyes and will not fall during daytime when the farmers may be working the fields. Whatever your reaction to the durian may be, tasting the durian for the first time promises to be an unforgettable experience.
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