Otto's DurianPage

THE DURIAN, fruit of Durio zibenthinus.  Called "The King of Fruits" or "The Queen of Fruits," but however you name it absolutely unique.   Durians are a much appreciated and sought-after delicacy in this part of Southeast Asia (we live in Borneo, if you don't know already).  Popular wisdom declares that white folk can't stand durians; however, this white person adores durians, to the extent that he wants to put up a modest web-page devoted to the fruit.

The durian is about as big as a large canteloupe and shaped like a rugby-ball.  The hard shell is covered with hard, sharp spikes.  It is painful just to carry a durian if it has no stem to hang on to, and if one of them falls and hits you on the head, you're in trouble.   The shell breaks into five sections.  Each section contains two or three large seeds (rainforest tree seeds---large and full of starch so that the embryo can grow up and find sunlight) covered with a white, creamy goo of a surprising and indescribable flavor.  The goo is what one eats.  I've never tasted  anything the least like durian. 

The durian fruit gives out a strong odor, which many white people find disgusting. Harriet McDougall, wife of the first anglican bishop of Sarawak, described her reactions thus: "These last [mangosteens] are, however, delicate, compared to the Durian, the famous fruit of the Straits, which, Papa says, tastes like a mixture of rotten eggs, sugar, and onions: I can only say that it smells detestable, for I have never tasted it.." [Letters from Sarawak.]  Anthony Burgess phrased the same idea this way: "like eating a magnificent raspberry blancmange in a foul public toilet."  Plenty of white people have made allusions to feces when describing the smell of a durian.  I honestly don't understand them, for I have never sensed anything offensive about durians.  However, folklore is folklore.

Durian season is at the end of the year.  We had many fruits way into the rainy season. 

Choosing durians is a difficult sport.  No S.E. Asian can buy a durian without picking it up, sniffing it, rattling it around, ear to shell.  Whether this makes any difference is doubtful. The end of the matter usually is that if it's a good durian you get a good durian; and if you don't, you don't.

There are many different types of durian.  The wild durians are rather small, like a grapefruit.  It is said that tigers love wild durians.  I can say for a fact that wild pigs love wild durians, after a walk through the jungle when I saw plenty of durian rinds and pig-hoof prints in the mud.  How they get the spiky shells open is a mystery to me.  Perhaps National Geographic would like to investigate this problem!

Cultivated durians are bigger than the wild ones.  The Thai variety of cultivated durian is very large, as big as an American football, but insipid in taste.

The Malays consider durian an aphrodisiac.  "When durians fall down, sarongs go up!" they say.  This is not echoed by the Dayaks.

Durian is considered a "heaty" fruit----i.e. it raises body temperature.   To counteract the heatiness of durian it is recommended to sip water from shells of the mangosteen fruit.  The mangosteen is known to be "cooling."

People say that eating durian while drinking brandy or other strong spirits will kill you.  Libertine men say that nothing is as tasty as eating durian and drinking beer.  The jury is out; but it seems to me that caution should be exercised.

Durian goo need not be consumed right then and there.  It can be preserved in the form of tempuyak. This is durian flesh mixed with salt, saved in a jar and allowed to ferment.  The result is a pleasantly acidic paste.  When this is fried with little cubes of fat pork, one gets an unctuous and addictive relish.  Tempuyak is, is...  really good!  One can make a meal out of tempuyak and rice.  The following is a piece I wrote for Cats Radio, Radio, Sarawak, for Reading Month ("Bulan Membaca") 2001:

Hardcore folklore says that white people smelling durian topple over like mosquitoes in the fumes of a Ridsect coil.  One exception demolishes a generality, and so know that this mat salleh [white guy] loves durian.  That’s not to say that durian isn’t “heaty.”  My first dish of durian was as strong as a dish of a dozen broiled kidneys.  White or brown, you’re smart to respect durian’s power.  Durian keeps nearly forever as heavenly tempuyak.  My late mother-in-law (God rest her soul) salted it down in large glass jars.  Properly festered, you scoop it out, fry it, and serve it with rice.  The Dayaks fry it with fat babi.  Even without, tempuyak is deliciously unctuous.  A bit of chili piques the palate.  A little pepper, spring onions help.  Bishop Howes sniffed the fresh dawn odors of tempuyak in the hills of Padawan and drooled.  Tempuyak and farm rice:  all you need for a full and tasty dinner.
Durian ice cream is definitely one of the best ice-creams that exist.  To make durian ice-cream, take durian goo, a handfull; add about a cup of sugar, and then mix with half-and-half cream and whole milk until you reach about 3/4 quart.  Then put the mixture into the tin of your ice-cream freezer, seal it up, and zoom it around in the ice-and-salt until frozen and ready.  Durian ice-cream is the best!

Go to Otto Steinmayer's Home Page            E-mail O.S.