Ode to Durian

by Tabitha Kidwell

Durian fruit is one of the most intriguing things I have come across during my stay in Indonesia. It is incredibly divisive – people either love it or hate it. It is often banned in hotels and on public transportation. Apparently it can’t be harvested, so you just have to wait for it to fall. I’ve heard stories of people being killed when the very fruit they were waiting to enjoy fell right on their heads. There are also stories of men running through the forest after hearing the distinctive clunk of a Durian hitting the ground, only to turn and run the other way upon finding a tiger already eating it. Because of all these perils, Durian is very expensive, but it is worth the cost to the many Indonesian durian fanatics. Indeed, Javanese people describe Durian as the “fruit of the Gods.”

Foreigners are more likely to compare it to stinky feet. It is incredibly hard to describe to someone who hasn’t actually tried it. Here is an example of my conversation with Erica, my visitor from America: Is it like melon? No. Is it like fish? Yes. Is it like cheese? Maybe a little. Is it like garlic? Yes. Is it like tomatoes? No. Is it like ice cream? Yes. Is it like bananas? Maybe a little bit. Is it like plain yogurt? No. So what is it actually like?

Well, it starts as a green spiny fruit the size and weight of a watermelon. Duri actually means thorn in Indonesian, and the spikes are surprisingly pointy. You chop it open and find three small sections each made up of two or three seeds surrounded by creamy white flesh. There is surprisingly little meat in the giant, heavy fruit, but what is there is unlike anything else in the world – sweet and pungent, creamy and rich.

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I first tried Durian during training in Bandung last year. While I didn’t think it was horrible, I definitely didn’t like it. At the height of Durian season, I would get to the grocery store and turn right around because of the stench coming from the produce section. But somewhere around the six-month mark here, I inexplicably started to crave it. Something about it’s sharp taste and intense smell appeals to me in the same way as Roquefort cheese, black coffee, lemon juice, and liquorice.

Javanese durian season started a couple of weeks ago, so I was excited to get back home, if only for a few days in the middle of Erica and my travels around Bali and Java. Almost as soon as we showed up at my house, a man rode by on his motorbike with a basket full of durian! I called him over, picked the smallest one, and cracked it open.

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Erica was almost immediately put off by the smell, but she was a good sport and gave it a try. Here’s what she thought:

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I think it may have been the only food in Indonesia she actually didn’t like. Yet. Like so many aspects of like here in Indonesia, durian takes time to grow on you, but then you love it… and you know that when you leave, you won’t ever have quite that experience ever again.

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