Enduring the Durian

July 19, 2011

Yesterday evening we at the MHK had the kind of food experience that I truly had in mind when creating this blog. We saw, smelled, and tasted an extremely exotic food that I first became aware of during an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.” That food is known as the durian fruit. Grown in trees throughout Southeast Asia, there are many varieties of the fruit, but all are purported to have one similar characteristic: the odor. The durian is known as the “king of fruits” in that part of the world, and many characterize its odor as “fragrant,” while others – mainly foreigners – call it “disgusting.” On that episode of “Bizarre Foods,” host Andrew Zimmern, who normally eats things like badger nostrils, orangutan spleens, and grasshopper elbows, could not eat the durian. Go to the 3-minute mark in this video and see the 3-minute clip:

So when a neighbor of the MHK announced yesterday that he had purchased a durian from a local Asian market and invited us to come try it, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. You can clearly see the spiny husk here:
It’s very sharp and should be handled with gloves. In this photo, you see a rough, smelly, useless lump, and next to it is a durian. Ha ha ha. Cutting it open was a massive task – the husk is very thick, and even with a super sharp knife it took great effort to crack it open. The odor at this point was minimal – it just smelled a little fruity. Here a wedge has been removed and you can see the innards. The white part that looks like cream cheese or custard is the edible portion of the fruit. Here is a view with the outer husk removed – the brown nut-like things are the seeds, and the white part is the edible fruit. At this point the odor was much stronger, but it was far less repulsive than we had heard about. In fact, only one person in the group that came to gawk was having an ill reaction to the smell. So now we were ready to taste it – it wasn’t bad at all. It sort of tasted like an onion, with a sweet finish to it. It wasn’t smooth, but wasn’t chewy either – the texture was very soft. The durian is mainly used to make milkshakes, ice cream, and other desserts in its countries of origin, and we could see that happening. I personally wouldn’t want to sit down and eat a lot of it, but a little bit was just fine.

So the experience was a bit underwhelming – the smell certainly did not live up to its reputation, but this may have been due to the ripeness and/or the variety of durian our neighbor purchased. After looking at other photos online, maybe it’s only certain types of durian that have the really bad smell. But it was an exciting adventure in culinary culture, and we are glad to have had the experience. Let us know if you’ve had a durian and what you thought about it!



  1. There are, apparently two types of durian. I tried the milder variety at Balticon back in May. Durian was also opened up (along with jackfruit) at Readercon this past weekend. This time, they apparently go the right kind, because it was described to me as smelling like a full diaper. (I wasn’t there for that opening; it was too late for me and I was already in bed.)

    The next day, Scott Edelman, who cracked open the durian (and who broke his knife on the jackfruit) was passing around durian candy.

    When I had durian at Balticon, I was surprised at how sweet it tasted, despite the oniony undertones.

    • Wow, I had no idea nerds sci-fi writers were so into exotic fruits! 😉

  2. great post! Being “the neighbor”, i can attest to what you say!

    • Thanks again!

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