On a steamy August night a few years back, in a nameless alley in Yangon/Rangoon, Myanmar/Burma (both constructions are politically incorrect), we found ourselves eating ten cent scoops of homemade ice cream out of metal cups with metal spoons. This was worrisome because of the possibility of bilharzia and whatnot, but we could not resist the siren call of indigenous frozen dessert, especially with the exotic flavors on the menu: jackfruit! Mangosteen! Durian!
Wait, durian? That spiky, giant, sublimely foul fruit that smells like old garbage? The fruit that, when it’s spewing sulfurous fumes detectable from a block away, is at its ripest? Why the hell would we want to eat that? Well, for one thing, we were young then and had never heard of durian before, which is precisely why we ordered it. And dear God was it vile! We choked it down to be polite (much to the amusement of nearby pedestrians, who had stopped to watch us eat), but it is one of the few foods that we genuinely do not enjoy. It’s too bad, really, because durian is one of the few foods that can dietarily sustain a human on its own (don’t try this at home!)
Enter the unscented durian, the first commercial shipment of which is inodorously growing in an orchard in eastern Thailand. Dr. Songpol Somsri, who believes that his defanged durian might find new markets in smell-averse Europe and the United States, is facing some backlash from durian purists around Southeast Asia. They contend that durian is rather like a fine wine, unique and complex in its flavor profile. We imagine that much of this quality gets lost when the fruit is frozen and shipped to America, but since it’s likely that we’ll be mostly importing the neutral variety in a few years, now is a good time to sample the original. While the most intrepid among you will go to your local Asian market and make something yourself, we recommend a few expert preparations after the jump.
Don’t let the title of this post fool you; the Chinese don’t really do durian, and it’s much more prevalent at, say, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Trouble is, it’s only available in smoothie form (more concentrated that way, at least) Both Hai Yens (Argyle, Lincoln Park) have it, as do both Joy Yees (Chinatown, Univ. Village). And in Roscoe Village, you can slurp some at Sticky Rice. Incidentally, if anyone knows where durian is served in a savory dish, do drop us a line.
Fans Sour on Sweeter Version of Asia’s Smelliest Fruit [NYTimes]
[Photo: Know Phucket]