Forbidden Fruit

January 18, 2007

Durian: D24, Teka, RajaI had heard of a fruit called durian from Soyan’s mother. It was always spoken of in wistful tones, her voice dripping with desire. Soyan, on the other hand, stressed how awful it smelled. I had never smelled durian, but I had been warned that it smelled “bad”. “Bad,” I thought, how bad can it be? I had been warned that it smelled “like rotting meat” or a “rubbish dump”. I had also been assured by its fans that whatever the momentary unpleasantness of the smell, it was well worth it for this little taste of heaven on earth. Despite the fruit’s popularity in Southeast Asia and in particular Malaysia, it is banned in most hotels. It is illegal to consume on public transit. It truly is… the forbidden fruit!

George picking RambutanWith this background I was delighted to be invited by George, another kind and generous “a.S.i.D” forum member, to join some of the forum for a fruit safari at his durian orchid an hour outside Kuala Lampur. George informed me that I had not really been to Malaysia until I had eaten durian. I am not a “fear factor” type, but I am not a picky eater either, so I was excited about trying it. I looked forward to joining the legion of durian fans, if for no other reason than the pleasure of enjoying forbidden fruit.

Chin Tong, one more of the “a.S.i.D” group that has been so welcoming, picked us up at the hotel and we began talking durian. He loves durian, and was anxious for us to try it. He made a convincing case that he wanted us to try it because he liked it so much. He assured me that, while it has a distinctive odor, if you enjoy blue cheese, you’ll be fine. That seemed promising, but the confidence was short lived. I asked his two children and their two friends if they liked durian and learned there was not a single fan among them.

Chin Tong carves a DurianAt the farm we took a wonderful walk and saw the astounding variety of plants and trees from all over the world that George has collected. We played in his waterfall and tasted his delicious rambutan, another local fruit. Finally it was time for the main event. In a crate next to the table were a dozen durians of the three best varieties. There were D24, widely considered the best commercial variety, Raja, popular for its deep yellow color, and Teka, George’s personal favorite. Only the D24 is commonly found since the other two strains have lower yields, making them less profitable to grow commercially.

With great reverence Chin Tong began to butcher the fruit, and the previously slight odor grew strong. While I didn’t really like the smell, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. That seemed promising, after all I had been told that eating durian was like sampling the ripest of strawberries or a delicious cream custard… while sitting in a latrine. It was time for my first taste.

The texture was very smooth and creamy, very much like a soft brie and with a similar color. The flavor was most similar to eating a whole roasted clove of garlic, with some onion flavor and a hint of, well, let’s call it fecal matter. Soyan captured me on video, hating it, but trying hard to maintain positive or at least neutral perspective, but it was really terrible. I forced myself to try two more varieties that were sufficiently similar to the first to assure me that while I had tasted forbidden fruit, I would never enjoy it.

George explained that around 90% of people he brought to the farm that had not previously been exposed to durian, didn’t like it. Perhaps that is why there was so much enthusiasm to share durian - if we like it that’s fine, but the real fun is in the “here, taste this, your going to hate it!”

Visiting the orchard was great, and seeing how rural Malaysia is just outside the city was a nice contrast to the many malls of KL. I am even glad I tried the durian. Thank goodness, I never have to do it again.

Thanks again to all my new a.S.i.D. friends in Malaysia!


  1. Hey Jonathan and Soyan. Great pictures and nice to hear from you. Finally my picture on the internet! My claim to fame.

    Comment by Caesar — January 18, 2007 @ 10:48 pm

  2. You described it perfectly! In the spirit of trying everything once, I did. But that was enough. I hated it and I felt as if the smell stuck to me for days after. Ugh.

    In the south of the Philippines, it’s everywhere. The smell is on the planes that travel to and from these areas, the airports, the malls. It was a nightamre lol.

    Comment by Christine — February 1, 2007 @ 1:07 am

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