An Ode to Durian

June 25, 2017 No Comments by adrienne
Pala-U Durian in Thailand

Pala-U Durian in Thailand

Now that the Thai durian season is in full swing–it took an excruciatingly long time to arrive this year–I thought it would be appropriate to write a little love letter to my favorite fruit.  Paul and I indulge in this amazing miracle of nature on a near-daily basis, so what better way to express our mutual adoration than with a few words of tribute…

Has there been a fruit in the entire history of mankind that has the ability to evoke as visceral a response as durian?  No one can remain in the neutral category when it comes to their stance on durian: they either love it or hate it.  Hotels, shopping malls, elevators and other public and private spaces throughout Southeast Asia plaster “no durian” signs throughout their establishments.  The permeating, lingering odor of the fruit is difficult to get rid of, and many people find it extremely offensive.  I am firmly entrenched in the “love it” camp as far as durian is concerned, and luckily for both me and my husband, he loves it, too.  There are other couples where both partners hate the fruit, and this is fine, too, though they don’t know what they’re missing.

Durian in Thailand Pala-U

Durian in Thailand Pala-U

The unfortunate ones are the mismatched pairs where one partner enjoys the smell and taste of the seductive fruit while the other finds it absolutely revolting.  It’s a Romeo and Juliet style tragedy, two star-crossed lovers whose otherwise perfect coupledom is thwarted by the stink of durian.  I can only imagine that these relationships are inevitably doomed, for who can suppress the overwhelming desire to consume the most heavenly, the most supple of nature’s gifts, even at the expense of rendering their spouse or loved one unconscious from the pungent odor?  It’s like a couple’s fundamental nature is at odds with each other.

How sad to be in a relationship with someone who can’t relate to that ecstatic joy of finding the perfect durian.  The excitement of wandering the stalls at the open market until you happen across the golden color of the exquisitely ripe, soft yet slightly firm, sweet and pungent mounds of fruit.  Packing it gingerly in the car, careful not to bruise the delicate flesh, you drive home with the tantalizing wafts from the backseat exciting you like gentle foreplay, a promise of the romance yet to come.  Once home, the durian goes directly into the refrigerator to cool down so it’s even more refreshing.

Then, the moment comes: the erotic pleasure when the creamy texture melts in your mouth and slides down your throat.  At the same time, the heady aroma of the fruit permeates the entire room.  You look at your partner and smile, your faces stuffed, little specks of yellow stuck to your lips, and you know the other one is enjoying this experience as much as you.  And after you’ve gorged yourselves, you each suck on the large seeds, pulling off the remaining fibers of flesh like meat off the bone.  Afterwards, the taste of the durian stays with you for hours, thanks to the delightful burps of flavor reminding you of your hedonistic indiscretions.

Durian is one of the most expensive fruits in the world, and there are many varieties to choose from throughout Southeast Asia.  In Thailand, the variety of choice among connoisseurs is the ganyao, cultivated mainly in the fabled area of Nonthaburi, where the most prized durians can cost up to 20,000 THB a piece (roughly $590 USD).  The trees are thinned out to no more than 3-4 fruit, which, very much like tending grape vines for wine, gives the remaining fruit the most sugar and nutrient density.  This culling practice, along with the fact that a huge amount of the mature durian trees were wiped out during Bangkok’s flood in 2011 has made the ganyao durian quite rare.  Moreover, the land prices around Nonthaburi (just north of Bangkok) has increased dramatically within the past 40 years, so more and more farmers are selling off their durian farms to developers and speculators.  There just aren’t that many ganyao durian farms left in Thailand; thus the steep price tag.

Because we like to eat durian on a near daily basis (when in season), we can’t afford to spend 10,000-20,000 THB on a single piece of fruit.  Therefore, we opt for the monthong variety, which is cultivated in several provinces of Thailand, including nearby in the Pala-U area, just west of Hua Hin.  Monthong is smooth and rich in both texture and flavor (for full disclosure, we have never tried the ganyao variety, so we don’t have a benchmark for comparison).  We like our durian super ripe, which makes the flesh soft, supple, sweet and a bright gold color.  We have friends who prefer a firmer fruit, but it’s widely recognized that no matter what the texture or ripeness, monthong is the durian of choice.  Chanee is another variety on offer, generally smaller and darker in color.  It’s usually less expensive than monthong, but it seems to lack the fullness, depth and body.

Durian in Thailand Market

Durian in Thailand Market

There are ways to ascertain ripeness from the exterior of the fruit, mainly by shaking it (you may want to wear gloves for this).  If the durian is ripe, there should be a slight knock of the fruit inside.  If there is no knock at all, the durian may be overripe or it may be underripe.  The preferred method for Thai vendors is a fairly reliable divining rod via a rubber-tipped stick for testing.  The vendors will thump the fruit with the stick to check for hollowness; if it sounds slightly hollow the flesh has softened enough to pull back from the shell.  If you’re not sure or don’t trust your ability to gauge ripeness, the best method we’ve found is to tell the durian vendor your preference for flavor, then let them recommend the fruit for you.  If you can check the flesh first, this is ideal, either by visual inspection (which is not always reliable) or by touch, more reliable, but may not be allowed by various sellers.

So, if you’re intrigued, but slightly nervous about trying durian for the first time, go slowly.  Ask a durian-loving friend to help select a delicious morsel for you.  You can pick up pre-packaged, fresh durian at any of the local markets, and generally one to two large, plastic-wrapped fruit pods will only set you back 100-200 THB (about $3-6 USD).  If you gag and are disgusted by the flavor, you’re out of pocket only a minimal expense for a new experience, and you can confirm your eternal hatred of durian.  If, on the other hand, you fall in love, well, there’s a whole new world of durian waiting for you!

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