You see the signs all over Singapore. NO DURIANS.
It is not allowed on buses, trains, and in other public places. Why does this spiky fruit garner such attention and focus? I have never seen any other fruit important enough for warning signage, alongside such societal ills as smoking, eating and drinking, and flammable good usage.
The reason is the smell, which is an intense, permeating smell that seems to follow you even after you have left the vicinity of the fruit.
Until I came to Singapore, I had never seen fruit as a polarizing subject. But I had never heard of durian. It is unique to Southeast Asia, beloved by many and reviled by the rest. It is so famous here, that it even has children’s books written about it.
So the time came to try it (when in Singapore do as the Singaporeans do, right?). Thus far I had only smelled it (it is an unavoidable smell if you happen to pass by it at a fruit stand or grocery store). I was quite terrified of trying it fresh, so I decided to try it in confection form to start. There is a place at NEX (a mall) called Four Seasons Durian. I had passed by this place tons of times, and it seemed quite popular. A durian pancake there costs S$1.80 (S1.28 USD). The guy in line in front of me bought a box of six, so I figured it was a good thing to try first.
I was sort of freaking out about trying it. I found a seat at Starbucks after getting a chai latte as a chaser, just in case.
Tasting Transcript: “I am afraid I will be kicked out as I am avoiding trying this food, just sitting here staring at it. Okay. Bite one. Mostly pancake. Ok. I think my tongue is tingling…might be allergic to it. Sigh… The pancake portion is nice. Firm, browned, not too thick. The filling seems to be a durian cream with bits of durian in it. Bite two. Thaaaaaat’s a lot of filling. The taste is hard to describe, but it fills your mouth and hangs around. The filling is sweet, and tastes of durian, which tastes just like it smells. Sort of rotten, sort of like cheese, but fruity. Okay. I’m done. I can’t eat any more. I managed four bites, but I can’t get through the middle. SO MUCH DURIAN FILLING. Thank goodness for the chai latte. Aaaand the taste is still there. Maybe durian soft serve ice cream (S$3.00, $2.13 USD) will be better? Ice cream is always good, right? Plus, the sign says it is too good to resist. So surely it must be.
“The ice cream is sort of nutty tasting. I still taste the durian, which I know is the point in durian ice cream. It is much more pleasant than the pancake. But the smell is the worst for me. I wonder if everyone around me smells it too. Before the spoon touches your tongue, you taste the smell wafting off of it. It tastes a little like egg custard too, which is nice.”
I managed about 10 bites. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had. But I definitely did not enjoy it.
Next I went to Goodwood Park Hotel. This hotel is a lovely place, and they have a special durian treat festival every year, so I assumed I would find the best possible durian confections there. The surroundings were much improved compared to my local mall: beautiful marble tables, crisp napkins, and shiny place settings. I decided to try their signature durian mousse cake and the rainbow ice cream cake (S$11.75, $8.36 USD each slice). Surely I would love these superbly created confections?
Alas, I did not. They were amazing, in a way. Truly light and fluffy, velvety and delicious…except for the durian taste in there. Sigh. I think I am just not a durian person.
For my third try, I decided to taste the real thing–unsweetened, unmasked, unadulterated. I thought maybe I should try the queen of the durian varieties, the Mao Shan Wang, but I was too lazy to try to find it somewhere. Plus I didn’t want to spend an awful lot on something I was pretty sure I would not like very much.
I found some fresh durian at a fruit stand in Bugis. Durian is so spiky and sharp, the fruit sellers have to wear thick gloves to cut it. They use big cleavers to chop at it until it splits open, then they remove the soft fruit, which is wrapped around big, brown seeds. The fruit seller put it in a container for me, and I sat on a curb to try it (the hubs would not allow me to bring it home lest our home begin to smell like durian).
And suprise surprise! I actually liked it! Not enough to buy it again, but if I was a guest in someone’s home and they served fresh durian to me, I would eat it and not grimace outwardly. It was sort of creamy and soft, like mangosteen (which I looooove). I ate one piece. I was all durian-ed out for the day. I am proud of myself for getting over the fear of eating this infamous fruit. :D
Want to read more about durian? This is a fun article with great historical durian-loathing quotes.