I’m eating durian. I’ve never had it before, although I might have tried durian-flavored ice cream. I also may have bought jackfruit thinking it was durian; a lot of tourists make the same mistake. Jackfruits are big, long and loafen like a fat lapdog’s body, and their skins are a spoiled, leathery grass green etched in brown, warty like a toad’s back. The fruit inside is packed in square lobes off a central interior stem like the head of a fern. Jackfruit fruit is pale yellow, and it has a plasticky sheen.
Durian is smaller, more spherical, and much more spiky. Its exterior is the color of mossy wood. Its inside is arranged similarly to jackfruit, but the taste and texture of the fruit is very different – and a slightly different color, less like peeled sugarcane and more like custard. Durian has a custardy texture, mushy on the teeth. It tastes…sort of like a banana, which is how many tropical fruits taste to me. A good and flavorful banana, but still a banana.
Durian has a reputation in the West – there’s an import folklore that has risen up around durian. It was supposedly delicious, rich in texture and taste. It was prized in this part of the world in season. Soon it was in high demand at home. Chefs were using it in desserts, specialty markets sold it at premium rates.
But there was a catch. Durian, so the story went, stank. It was “pungent,” and it smelled either like rotting meat or catshit, but it smelled so strongly that guesthouses forbade customers to bring it inside.
I was curious when I arrived, enough to buy durian this afternoon, but I can’t smell anything ripe. Durian smells like a banana. Strong, fruity, pungent after all, but just like ripe tropical fruit.