Over thirty years ago, I had the great fortune of performing in Bangkok, Thailand as a singer/dancer with Patra Vadi, a famous star in her native Thailand.
One's first exposure to Asia can be overwhelming, just as the first time you smell and taste Durian.
They are covered with skin-piercing thorns and their smell can be detected blocks away of an open market. Most upscale hotels have a "NO DURIAN" sign posted in their lobbies. Once you've made it past the pungent aroma, the taste is pure heaven, like creamy vanilla custard. Little did I know this was the beginning of a 30-year love affair with the king of fruits.
The particular variety I first sampled I learned to be called Mon Thong, commonly sold in supermarkets because of its significantly weaker smell. Years later, I would try a longer stem variety called Kaanyao with a far nuttier taste and a bit creamier, which became my favorite.
Every country in Asia produces its own unique variety. I took part in a flora and fauna survey at Imbak Canyon in Borneo, where all the researchers (I was the orchid specialist) were flown by helicopter to the heart of an extinct volcanic caldera. Here the durians have orange flesh, and a slightly different taste than the Thai ones I had been accustomed to.
On a separate visit to Sabah, I found red durians. These color varieties also seem to express themselves in jackfruit - surely the largest tropical fruit in the world - with certain trunk-born specimens weighing in at over 10 kilos! Thankfully, the jackfruit are void of the armor-piercing spines of the durian.
I came across an agricultural pamphlet that stated over 260,000 tonnes of durian are exported from Thailand every year. It also, to my amazement, said the durian wood is now being used to make musical instruments, particularly kick drums. Its lightness produces a unique sonic resonance which will soon be in demand by musicians worldwide.
One can simply eat durian raw, or accompanied by sticky rice in smoothies, ice cream, cakes and puddings. I now see duroan chips available in the Sunday weekend market in Chang Mai, which will satisfy my craving when I leave Asia.
"Smells like hell, tastes like heaven" will always be the west way to describe this fruit. In reference to its spiny thorns, you can't always judge a book by its cover.
Randall Quirk Journal, June 15, 2015