I’ve created some tension in my house because I am storing durian in the fridge. It’s not even a full durian fruit, just the pulpy insides, which are in a shrink-wrapped plastic box. Nonetheless, it is stinking up the refrigerator, so that a cloud of durian-stench wafts out every time the fridge is opened.
For those of you not familiar with durian, it just stinks. Of durian, Anthony Bourdain has remarked that after eating, “your breath will smell as if you’d been french kissing your dead grandmother.” In Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia, durians are banned from being brought into enclosed public spaces. However, they are also praised as “the king of fruits” in that same part of the world. Here in the West, they are a lightning rod of controversy. As far as I can tell, most people in this country are thoroughly disgusted by the durian before they even taste it. Even then, they are likely not to come back for a second bite. Now, I sought out durian a few years back after reading about it in some Asian cookbooks, which sung its praises. I find it quite delicious, addictive even – but I do not deny that it is pungent – and funky tasting – as hell. After several unsuccessful attempts to turn people on to durian, I have come to the realization that most people are happier not to have me serve it to them. So I am forced to enjoy it in solitude, sitting and eating it in the backyard because my wife does not want it in the house.
Case in point: I threw a dinner party awhile back, and since I had some durian in the fridge and needed to cook dessert, I threw together a durian cheesecake. I figured, what better way to ease people into eating durian – they don’t have to deal with the pungent fruit itself, it will be mixed with traditional cheesecake ingredients to cut the strong flavor. The meal went off great, everyone was singing the praises of the food, so I brought out my cheesecake with much fanfare. There was much discussion and anticipation, my dinner guests being familiar with the durian but never having sampled one. I should add that this was a sophisticated group of diners, many of whom would not hesitate to consume the funkiest of unpasteurized french cheeses. But durian threw them for a loop. Many took one bite and left the rest. Maybe one guest ate his entire piece, though less than enthusiastically. It was pretty much a stellar flop on my part, I should have just served some ice cream. So I learned my lesson – durian is not ready for prime time in this country, or indeed outside of Southeast Asia. You will not be buying durian at Gristedes or through FreshDirect in the near future, if ever. Durian will not be all the rage on NYC menus, nor will it be sold from food trucks. Its just too funky, and too divisive. Its one of the few foods that separates consumers into two camps – utter revulsion, or blissful enjoyment. There is no in-between, no one is just okay with being served durian (actually, J. Burger may provide an example of someone who is basically lukewarm about durian. Of course, she is Southeast Asian, so she is kind of over it at this point).
Next up: I am keen to find some interesting new recipes, beyond custard, smoothies and cheesecakes. Durian cake intrigues me but my wife will never forgive me if I fill the house with the smell of cooked durian, so that will have to wait. I’m also curious about durian pairings. We all know that prosciutto and melon pair well together, but what on earth pairs with durian? I feel like there is lots of new culinary ground to be broken with durian, once you have gotten past creamy desserts. I’m just sorry I can’t get more people enthusiastic about this particular journey – but, as the Grateful Dead sang: if I go, no one may follow, that path is for my steps alone.