EOWTTA*:D is for durian

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

*(eating our way through the alphabet)
Durian=(Durio zibethinus)

I’m sure a lot of you would have heard of this notorious fruit. This spiky football sized delicacy is either something you love or hate with a vengeance. My parents and I love durian but my brother used to run to the other side of the house in a bid to escape the “pong”. His resistance proved futile ☺. The smell of durian is extremely pervasive and very hard to hide – which is why it’s banned from many hotels and public transport systems in various parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

Since it’s the smell that defines this fruit, let’s start there first. Apparently the durian contains 63 volatile constituents – these include esters, ketones and sulphurous compounds – major culprits in the smell department(1). However, the actual component that contributes to the smell has not been determined yet.

Yes, but what does it really smell like? It is a really difficult odour to pinpoint and the fruit’s detractors have described it in various unflattering ways including rotting fish, garbage and old gym socks. Poor much aligned durian. Different varieties of durian actually smell vastly different from each other. For example, some Thai durian varieties aren’t considered as strong smelling as others.

Here’s my attempt at describing the smell: the first notes that hit you are actually very heady almost like the smell of overripe pineapple or strawberry, that really super sweet smell that’s verging slightly on the unpleasant. The mid-notes smell almost meaty – think frying onions and mince together. Then the base notes come in, a pungent, almost bitter aroma, quite “chemically” in fact – some have described it as akin to the smell of turpentine. This is just what I think I’m quite sure it smells different to each person which explains the strong divide.

Really, the only way to know is to take a really good sniff – go on, I dare you ☺

And the taste? Can’t really help you there either because the flavour is so strongly tied to the smell – it’s sweet if that helps. If you can’t get past the smell, then the taste isn’t going to bowl you over. Durian aficionados on the other hand will wax lyrical and fiercely debate the differences between durian varieties. The variety strongly affects how much the fruit costs – for example, in Malaysia, the D24 is considered to be a superior variety and fetches a higher price. Then there are others who seek out “durian kampung” (kampung=village), said to have a more distinct (sometimes bitter) flavour compared to the rest of its thorny bretheren.

Texture wise – it’s really creamy, like a very thick custard, but it does have some fibrous parts to it as well - almost like the mango for want of a better comparison. Durian is best enjoyed fresh and eaten with the hands – suck every last morsel of the seed, the best bit. (After eating durian, I do find that my mouth has that sort of “dry” feeling sometimes found after eating raw onions – probably due to the sulphur content).

Durian season was a highly anticipated event when I was a kid. Even today, whenever I head to Malaysia to visit the folks, I frequently hope that our trip will coincide with the fruiting season. The folks will ask “ Want to eat durian?” and the hunt begins for a good fruit (much to Mr. Kitchen Hand’s dismay – he’s not a believer ☺).

I can’t really tell you how to choose a good durian because that’s always been mum’s department. She sniffs the fruit, shakes it to listen to the “rattle”, examines it minutely before passing judgement. Then the price-haggling begins. I just wait patiently until the long awaited prize is borne back to the car and we head home to begin the feast!

There are many superstitions and beliefs associated with durian. We were always told that the durian is “heaty” – eating too much would cause one to sweat. (Due to indigestion more likely). Mum would also warn us about mixing durian and other “heaty” food like crab, or in my dad’s case – beer! The consequences of mixing the two together were death apparently. We’d always pooh-pooh these warnings, but a recent study suggests there may be a minute grain of truth in these beliefs. It is possible that the durian’s high sulphurous content may hinder the breakdown of alcohol in the system (2).

Another belief was drinking water out of the leftover durian shells would “cool” the body down - eating mangosteens is also supposed to help. Durian is usually described as the “King of Fruits” and mangosteens were sometimes referred to as the Queen – though I’m not sure if my family just made the latter one up.

And of course, one of these posts wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t find out halfway through that the fruit/vegetable in question has purported aphrodisiacal properties! Yes, the Javanese believe that the durian heats up more than the body (*wink*). Apparently there is a saying that translates to : when the durian falls, the sarongs go up!(3)

Please excuse the quality of this pic, it was taken years ago while on holiday in thailand. That's durian in the front, and the red ones are rambutan. The other deep purple fruit are mangosteens.

I could go on and on about the durian because I’m a fan and have many, many fond memories of this fruit. The Wikipedia
for Durian is really quite exhaustive so if you’re interested do surf on over there to read more.

As for culinary uses, durian can be used in dodol (a kind of sticky flour based delicacy with a chewy consistency), wajik (a rice based sweet),pengat & bubur(soupy type desserts). Durian also makes an appearance in ice-cream, custards or cakes.

I really wanted to find a whole durian to photograph for this post but had to be satisfied with the small tub of ready peeled fruit that I found. Durian freezes really well and is a great way of storing leftover fruit. (This lot was double bagged and hidden in the freezer, then cooked on a very windy day with all the windows open to disperse the smell – no complaints from Mr. Kitchen Hand).

Here’s a recipe for kuah (sauce) durian (sometimes called serawa durian) and it makes enough for two good serves. It is usually eaten with pulut (glutinous rice). I found that half a cup of glutinous rice was ample – follow the cooking directions on your packet of rice.

Simple serawa durian

Durian flesh (I started with about 225g, from 3 durian pieces)
50g coconut cream ( I used coconut cream I’d frozen in ice-cube trays. Usually, this dish is made with thick coconut milk).
½ cup water (adjust according to preference – may not need water if using milk instead of cream)
1 tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar)
1 tbsp caster sugar (or just use 2 tbsp caster sugar if palm sugar isn’t available. Adjust the sweetness according to sweetness of the fruit)

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook stirring over low heat until sugar has dissolved and durian achieves a custard-like consistency. This only takes about 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t boil it vigorously otherwise the coconut cream might separate.

Serve warm with glutinous rice or sliced white bread for dipping.

(The smell becomes quite mellow when served this way).

A different recipe for durian “stew”, can be found here.

Bear in mind that the durian smell lingers on everything, fingers, breath etc - so be prepared for social ostracisation :).

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian


Barbara said...

This is why I love bloggers. I have never heard of durian. Never seen it either. And you made me look it up in Wikipedia. I guess, if I really wanted to put with the smell, I might find it in an Asian market in NYC or maybe California. Doubt I would find it in Miami- the closest large city. Someone described it's smell as gym socks. But the flavor appears to be wonderful.

Peggy Bourjaily said...

Wow! What a great description. I've never ever tried durian. Now, I want to, but I hope my neighbors don't kill me!

Juliana said...

I had the opportunity to smell durian, and I can tell you that I did not like it :-), therefore I refused to place it in my mouth...

Anh said...

Interesting!!! I am a durian convert for a while now (I told you, that’s one of the condition of marrying a Singaporean-born Aussie). I love how you describe the smell into different notes, just like perfume *giggle*. Durian texture and taste are the best. I am still struggling with the smell sometimes though.

shaz said...

Hi Barbara - I found my durian in one of the little Asian supermarkets here (Sydney) so you'd probably be able to find it in the larger cities, but whether you'd really want to eat it is the question :). If you ever do, I'd love to know what you think of it.

Ha ha Peggy - I was very nervous too because I live in an apartment block but luckily we only share one common wall and I have lots of doors and windows to disperse the smell!

Juliana - I don't blame you! My husband won't eat it, and the kids tasted it but won't eat more than a small bite :)

Good on you Anh - it is such a hard smell to get over. And once, a very, very long time ago, I worked as a summer casual in the fragrance department - the training still lingers :)

Linda@eatshow&tell said...

lol.. i love your description of the smell. Now when I think about it, there is a small hint of turpentine especially in the super ripe ones