In the world of fruit, durian boldly establishes its presence in a variety of ways. It is slightly larger than a football, but would be better suited for a game of Rollerball - it has a thick, greenish brown hide covered with hard, sharp spikes that can and will inflict serious pain. In fact, hard hats are recommended in the Southeast Asian orchards where it is grown in order to avoid an encounter your own personal version of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy". If the skin is not split on its own upon ripening, you'll need a sharp, serrated blade to cut through the skin. Once opened, the durian presents itself with several chambers running the length of the fruit; inside each is the pale yellow flesh of the fruit. The hard, brown seeds are nestled in the flesh, and are about the size of a small kiwi fruit (which would most likely tremble in fear in the presence of "the king of fruit").
Durian pastry - stinking good
As if all this formidable armor wasn't enough, the durian's weapon of choice is its smell. Oddly enough, the smell has different effects depending upon whose nose is being used. There are some (myself included) that recognize the aroma as somewhat pungent, but not particularly offensive. Others can't even get close to the intact fruit without having to resist the urge to blow their groceries. For this reason, some areas of Southeast Asia prohibit bringing durian into hotels and public places such as buses and airports. It isn't difficult to find durian in the United States used (in somewhat muted form) in shakes, pastries (including cakes and cookies) and candy. If you have the opportunity, you should try the fresh fruit to appreciate its qualities.
Since the durian has a different effect on each person who tries it, what better way to compare these experiences than to gather friends and coworkers together while you crack open one of these bad boys at the office. We did just that, gathering approximately 15 people together in the outside courtyard to sample it. The fruit opened up like one of the larva in Aliens, and the smell caused several participants to take a few steps back. We dug into the fruit, scooping chunks onto a plate and inviting the group to partake, with varying results. Several people could only get it momentarily get it into their mouths, spitting the contents into the bushes; others couldn't even get that far. Personally, I found the taste to be remarkably rich, like a mixture of butter, eggs, sugar and almonds with a marshmallow-like consistency. The smell did nothing to diminish the taste, and the only reason I only had about four scoops was because it was so rich. One of the participants likened it to onion custard, while another person said it tasted like vomit. We brought what was leftover upstairs into the kitchen for others to enjoy, prompting someone two offices away to call out, "My God, what is that horrible smell?"
Durian pastry from Phoenix Food Boutique in Alhambra CA
I advise you to ignore the bad press durian gets, clear the images of a rotting hell-fruit out of your mind and give it a try. Hopefully you will enjoy it as I do, eating it whenever the opportunity arises. If not, please find a discreet place to toss your cookies so as not to confuse people with the smell.
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