Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Durian-- National fruit of Singapore

This past weekend, I bravely stepped up and took my first taste of durian.  Durian, for those who don't know, is a large fruit about the size of a volleyball, with spikey tentacles coming out of it.  It looks like the business end of a medieval mace.  As one bakery shop clerk informed me, when I enquired about a particular dessert cake, "You may not want this one-- most Westerners do not care for the taste of durian".  That is a true story.

Durian  (Image from wikipedia)

Once the durian is cut open, there are pods of the edible portion of the fruit, which each in turn surround a large seed.  The husk of the fruit has a white pithy substance that surrounds the fruit, similar to a pomegranate. In the grocery markets, durian is often in its raw form, either as a whole fruit, or more commonly, packaged with the seed/fruit separated from the fruit husk.  Seeing the processed fruit in our local "hypermarket"  (supermarket) I thought these packages were some type of bread dough (the meat of the fruit is a pale yellow color and has a visual texture similar to raw dough), but perplexed as to why they were located in the fruit and vegetable section of the market.  Durian is prevalent in many food items sold around town, including cakes and ice cream.  It is used in a number of local dishes.
You know when it is about.  It has a strong and permeating odor, and drives a strong urge to vacate the premises.  It takes some stamina to do the grocery shopping, and to walk past the ice cream shop with durian ice cream.  Durian is an acquired taste-- and smell.
Durian grows on trees, and is native to Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  There are a number of varieties, and it is cultivated for harvest.  If apples are are symbolically American, then durian is the national fruit of Singapore.  The Esplanade, a theater-arts building in downtown Singapore is patterned after the fruit.

The Esplanade  (image from Wikipedia)

My first experience with eating durian occurred last weekend.  We attended a house warming party at some new friends apartment, who have moved here from all places, Marin County in the SF Bay Area ("it's a small world").  She is native to Bali, and he is American, although has spent a lot of time in Asia (he speaks fluent Mandarin).  Durian was served, and I cautiously took a small sample.  My bravery was fortified by some of the beverages they also had served.  After tasting it, I find the smell and its texture to be the most displeasing aspects of it-- I cannot really describe the smell, however the texture is something like a stringy persimmon.  It's a bit slimey.  After I ate some of the durian, one of the guests related (old wive's tale, I think) that mixing durian and alcoholic beverages is a bad thing to do.  No further elaboration.  I had not heard this previously, but she was quite serious about it.  Our host indicated he did not care for it-- not because of its taste or smell, but because it upset his stomach terribly.  I suffered no apparent ill effects (I had a very small piece) from the experience, and perhaps have dispelled the notion of not mixing it with alcohol--  I'm not sure how you would chose to eat it any other way.
It's an acquired taste.

1 comment:

  1. Elaine,
    I just read about your father... Peace be with you... I am sure it is hard to be so far away, but thank goodness for the time you did have while he was aware of you and those around him....

    Peace be with you...
    (I could not post this on your newest post for somereason... so came here instead)...

    ps.. The sun is finally shining in our area - but woke to 10 degrees! And, that is life.. Some degrees of beauty and hapiness...
    Big hugs to you...