16 April 2010

Benito vs. the Durian

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.


Scott said...

Cheers man. I once got a sample of some durian cheesecake thing in a Singapore supermarket and almost cried because I tasted skunk for two hours. For me, its just awful.

Benito said...


I'm by no means a picky eater. I'll try just about everything, and even if I don't like it, I won't complain. But durian is just a special category of wrong.

It's really that lingering aftertaste and aftersmell that's the problem. It's like a neighbor with a really loud stereo: yeah, I appreciate the works of the Notorious B.I.G., but right at this moment Biggie's giving me a headache and I can't get away from it.


Joe said...

Damn! You are a tougher man than I. But, I guess I would try it. Nothing is more horrifying to me than hard boiled chicken egg whites. And I'll eat anything.

Benito said...


I'll eat pretty much anything as well. There are some foods that I just find boring, like chickpeas. Hummus is fine, but most of your flavor is coming from the garlic and olive oil, or whatever else you used to spice up an otherwise bland starch. But I could eat a full can of the little bastards without choking.

I've eaten baby octopus fresh out of the Ligurian sea, big black ants that were still alive, abalone in a really sketchy Chinese joint where even the chicken was considered dangerous, and all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

Durian is just nasty. I've been in the Tinker AFB locker room on a hot summer day. I've encountered a decomposing deer in the woods. I've been around human corpses in various states of decay (former anthropology major). Durian wins the foul smell trophy.


Wine Tonite! said...

Dude, you guys are just way out of my league. This durian stuff just sounds awful. I have travelled quite a bit and like to live by the statement of "when in Rome..." but this just sounds over the line. If Zimmerman won't touch it, that should be a sign. You get the merit badge of courage, my friend.

Benito said...


I've got to admit, I was more scared the first time I ate snails, but I ended up loving those and couldn't get enough. Durian is worse after you eat it, and then once you are cursed by the foul aroma you have a visceral urge to get far away from it, but the evil is now inside you!

I have to be careful sometimes with these stories. Somebody will invite me over for dinner and say, "Sorry, we're just having meatloaf... There's no hog pancreas or squid tentacles in it." Jeez, I don't eat like this all the time, but sometimes I find real gems, like that luscious buttery escargot. Mmmmm...


fredric koeppel said...

so why do people bother with the damn thing? i know there's a certain pride in local delicacies -- I ate a breakfast of fermented cheese, fried millet and mare's milk in Mongolia -- and food that seems exotic (or demonic), but why go to all this trouble to eat a substance that seems like something out of the bowels of a Lovecraftian monster?

Constance C said...

that is dedication!

Benito said...


There are many people that really love the stuff, and even a few mentioned enjoying it when I brought this up on Facebook. I'm thinking you need to be introduced to it at an early age or be introduced in small quantities. I wouldn't recommend plunging in head first like I did.

As for why I tasted it... There was that slight belief that perhaps all the horror stories were exaggerated, or unfair.


I can give you a wine pairing for this. Use a badly corked wine, or one heavily contaminated with brett, and it's going to smell like Chateau d'Yquem by comparison.


Paul M. Jones said...

/me considers a variation on Roy Batty's death speech:

"I've ... *smelled* things you people wouldn't believe."

Benito said...


I'm surprised eating this didn't come up during the gom jabbar test in Dune. "Fear is the stomach turner!"


Allen said...

It is time for a intervention. You need some Apples and Peaches (domestic, nothing that has hauled on the back of a lama in Tibet), a PB&J sandwich and a glass of 3.5 Milk. Get down to the West Street Dinner and order the large chicken and dumplings with some greens and cornbread. I'll buy.

Benito said...


Fear not, the rest of the week has been pretty normal. A burger and a Shiner beer the other day, in fact. A Hank Hill kind of meal.


Allen said...

In the great words of Dr. Phil "How is that burger and Shiner working for ya?"

Samantha Dugan said...

I am such a baby, there are a few things that I cannot and will not eat, (filter meat, caviar) I like Durian. I think mine had to be fresher than yours, it smelled gawd awful but I didn't get the linger that you did. I loved the creamy texture and being a veggie-over-fruit person, I adored the savory nature of it. That being said I only had it once and I have not run back to get another, kinda a pain in the ass to cut into and the defrosting time makes for some strange looks from the neighbors.

Benito said...


Thanks for stepping in to bravely defend durian. Anthony Bourdain absolutely loves the stuff, and obviously there are big fans of it out there.

Some even consider it an aphrodisiac, but I think that would require two people who are really into durian.


Mr. Pineapple Man said...

durian! i love this fruit minus the aftersmell~