Ever watch No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel? We watch it, a lot, and really really enjoy it. Austin bought the first season as a wedding gift for his brother. Anthony travels around the world, and the focus of the show is mostly food. On the Indonesia episode, which I haven't seen but Austin and Charles have watched at least twice, he eats durian. Durian is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, and is famous for having a "distinctive" odor but a sweet and delicious flavor. The descriptions of how it smells range from gym sock to turpentine to pig shit to "flowery." (That "flowery" description must have been a mis-translation, from what I can figure.)
Naturally, Austin wants one. So this weekend we roll out to the K & S Market on Charlotte (we actually went to the one on Nolensville also, but it's not very good, don't bother, Nashville) and search the produce section, which was (to Austin's disappointment and my relief) durian-free. We did locate some durian-flavoured pudding, and threw that in the basket. Then, as we were desperately combing the aisles for saffron and green cardamom seeds (no luck on either, btw), there, in the freezer section, was a cooler full of frozen durians. Oh, the joy on my Birthday Boy's face. Durian comes home with us, rests on the kitchen counter like a threatening porcupine of looming stench. While frozen, it didn't smell like anything but market freezer. After it had time to thaw, Austin and Charles took it outside (on my orders) and started to hack into it. And I'm telling you, people, it was worse than even described.
I hid inside while they ate, forbidding them to bring it into the house, but I guess Charles thought this was prank-worthy. They came in, later, and I was wailing about how I could smell it on them, and it smelled like it was everywhere, and Austin licked my arm and I had to scrub it to get the scent off. I was demanding that they light candles to clear the air, and then Austin comes in carrying the half-eaten durian shell holding a lighter to it, saying, "It won't light." They had brought it in and I believe Charles wanted to hide it somewhere that it would take me a few days to find. This is hilarious, right?
And then last night, we went to Family Dinner at Carmen's and there was ANOTHER durian in her kitchen! I immediately bellowed for Charles, who knew what I was yelling about as soon as I saw my face, and boy did he look proud. "For Austin's birthday!" Right. They took it on the porch and let everyone have a chance sniffing and tasting. I am glad to know that my reaction appears to be that of the majority.
I am starting to think that durian is like a rorschach test of the olfactory system. You smell what you want to smell. I smell burned hair and, very specifically, the mold that grows in a tupperware container that originally held buttered rice but has sat out on the counter in the hot kitchen for five days. Nick said it smelled like a garbage disposal, and Nikiah said it smelled like pink medicine. Carmen took that one step further and said it smelled like amoxycillin after she had thrown it up.
As far as the taste, I just didn't go for it. Sweet like a mango, but probably more like papaya or passionfruit, neither of which I care for. But with a texture of rather firm cream cheese, with a bit of stringiness like pineapple. I suppose the taste could be very appealing to some, and certainly not utterly repellent to most, but I can't imagine that much of the world's population can even push past the smell to bother seeing if it tastes good. I myself cannot. As said in Ratatouille, "Once you muscle past the gag reflex, all sorts of possiblities open up." Those possibilities are, as far as I'm concerned, unavailable to me.