It's on the Omnivore's 100*. It's banned from airplanes, hotels, and public transit in Southeast Asia. It's about the only thing that Andrew Zimmern won't eat.
It was time for me to tackle the Durian.
The local international grocery store, my source for odd ingredients, provides durian in two forms. You can buy the entire fruit which is a bit bigger than a football, or you can purchase the pods as seen here. In both cases, the durian is kept completely frozen to avoid stinking up the entire building. This box contains three layers of shielding: the outer shrinkwrap, an airtight plastic box, and the individual pods are wrapped in plastic.
When I got home I placed the box in a Ziploc bag, placed that bag in a Tupperware container, and then tied all that up inside a garbage bag, which was placed in the refrigerator for overnight thawing. Why all the precaution? I didn't want to contaminate the fridge or damage every edible thing within it. I'd never tasted or smelled durian before, but I had enough forewarning that I didn't want to take any chances.
The next morning I started out my day with two glasses of water on an empty stomach. I took everything outside and began to unwrap the whole mass. By the time I got to the Ziploc bag I could already smell something rank. Not good.
I sliced open one of the pods, as seen in this photo. It smelled horrible, like rotten onions and garlic, combined with a really stinky cheese, a sulfuric chemical, and all that is evil and wrong in the world. If you've ever encountered a refrigerator that's been unplugged for a couple of weeks, allowing the contents to stew and ferment, you've got a good idea what durian smells like.
I ate a couple of spoonfuls--surprisingly, it tastes quite nice, very creamy and a little sweet, like a papaya custard. I was pretty proud of myself, and then I exhaled... and encountered the full power of that horrible aroma. A gasp, then I exhaled again, and there it was again. And not to get graphic, but I had been warned that durian burps were considered unpleasant and horrifying even by fans of the fruit, and I got to have yet another new and wondrous experience.
I closed everything back up, tied up the box in two layers of garbage bags, and threw it out at the edge of the street. (And yes, you can still smell it through all of those layers.) A few hours after the tasting, I managed to get down a little lunch without incident, and the aroma eventually disappeared. A long hot shower was necessary. I didn't stand under the water weeping uncontrollably, but only because I was afraid my tears would smell like durian.
Several people have suggested that it's best in a smoothie. There's a difference between enjoying a powerful ingredient on its own as opposed to how it performs in a recipe. Try eating a tablespoon of cinnamon some time. (Actually, don't do it.) I might try a durian milkshake in the future, but it's going to be a while before I can even think about smelling durian again.
*Last year I wrote about this list. By knocking out bagna cauda, carp, head cheese, and durian, I'm down to 17 items I haven't tried.