How bad could it be?
I have been intrigued by durians for years, ever since I first heard them described on the radio. Some people, the report said, find the durian the best-tasting fruit in the world. No, more than that, they think it is the best-tasting food in the world.
But others — and the radio guy hinted they may be in the vast majority — think the distinctive fruit from Southeast Asia with the hard, spiny exterior is the foulest and most repugnant thing ever. Apparently, people line up on one side or other in the durian debate; there is no middle ground.
I was already planning to buy a whole durian fruit (they are sometimes available at international markets) and write a column about it when a colleague beat me to the punch. She left a package of durian wafer cookies on my desk with a note reading “I durian dog dare you.”
Naturally, I had to try them. How bad could they be? After all, the durian content of the wafers, in the form of freeze-dried durian, made up only 5 percent of the total cookie.
I unwrapped one of the three tightly wrapped package of wafers and was immediately hit with the stench of durian, which food writer Richard Sterling once memorably described as “turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”
He was being kind. The aroma is more frequently and accurately compared to rotting meat. In fact, shortly afterward I went to make lunch and discovered that the meat I had planned to cook was mildly rotten — and it still smelled better than the durian wafer.
But I was expecting it to smell … pungent. The true question was: How did it taste?
How bad could it be?
I had heard stories. People told me that they tried it and ran gagging from the room. People told me that it tasted like garbage on a hot summer’s day. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for this.
My first small bite was not at all awful. It tasted mostly like a wafer cookie, with just the faintest hint of something exotic, something I had not tried before.
Presumably, the 5 percent of freeze-dried durian powder had somehow not been distributed to that first bite. Because then I took a second bite.
It tasted like fish that had gone bad and was then brushed with battery acid. It tasted like something had crawled inside my mouth and died. It tasted like something had first rolled around in something nasty and then crawled inside my mouth to die.
More than an hour after eating it — and I tried only one small wafer — I still had that stomach-churning, putrescent taste. Worse yet, I had a bit of a burning sensation, as if I had nibbled some nasty chemicals that are clearly not meant for human consumption.
Even so, I can see why some people like durian. Well, let’s say I can sort of see why some people like it. Once you get past the flavor of suppurating flesh glazed with toxic waste, you can definitely get the sense of fruit. “Regurgitated melon,” one co-worker called it.
It also boasts a certain funkiness, in the same way that some good cheeses are a bit funky. That can be a good thing, at least in moderation. But durian is massively funkier than cheese. Durian is funkier than George Clinton ever was. Durian is all funk, plus five-day-old roadkill.
How bad can it be? If you ask yourself that question, all too often the answer is “worse than you think.”
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