vegetable of the week: Durio species
I started the vegetable of the week (or month) because I wanted to start chipping away at my ignorance about the food we eat. It is pretty weird and cool out there!
But today I want to post about my favourite food! It is mysterious and exotic here in the US, but not due to a loss of knowledge!
It is reviled in many countries, being banned from enclosed spaces in some areas, and from public places too in others! To affecionados (like me!) it has the sweetest, most desirable aroma of any food in the world, but to detractors (pretty much everyone) it smells like a public toilet that has overflowed and left to decompose. It’s aroma is indeed powerful, having the ability to flavor foods in separate parts of the refridgerator even when constrained by multiple plastic bags.
It is the durian, the punk rock king of fruits!
The durian hails from trees in the steamy, fetid jungles of southeast Asia. It is a green spiky (nasty!) elongated sphere about 1 foot long and 3/4 foot across. If you have the stubborn determination to crack it open (an often bloody process due to the spikes), you will find a number (about 7) of chambers within holding a fibrous, fleshy, yellow matter that looks like overfed caterpillars wrapped around a series of seeds that look like a woody version of the sides of a male orangutan’s face. That really is the only way I can think of to describe it!
A male orangutan (‘man of the jungle’ in Malay):
If you survive the smell, and then the blood loss, you may be rewarded richly indeed!
These yellow morsels contain the gift of heaven or the retribution of hell.
The first time I ate durian, it was a cheap overripe one. My asshole stepfather, keen to look like an experienced man of the orient, yet as ever perpetually confounded by his incompetent proclivity towards counter-production, told us he had selected a good one. He was wrong. But as an arrogant asshole, he had to seem correct. So, despite going pale and gagging slightly he choked down a skerrick of the filth. We ate some. It tasted like decomposing cream swirled with rotten strawberries and topped off with a strong dose of black pepper and garlic. You can imagine, we did not eat durian for a while.
However, my mother is made of strong stuff. We got another durian. This one was a good one (the Thai ones are the best!); it tasted like heaven on earth. It was all light creamy custard, with strong strawberry and vanilla notes with a stridently uplifting and unique finish that made it insufferable not to eat more!! So fresh and clean. Goddamn! There is nothing in this world that compares to eating durian!
Luckily, durian is now available in all kinds of places! In Australia it is in the major supermarkets (rather bravely, in an unfrozen form!), as well as in Asian grocers in the US (and especially in Thai Town!). Be warned, if you can buy a small amount of shucked flesh first time around – you don’t want to bleed for this or have this in your fridge if you decide not to eat it!
Apparently, durian is potentially lethal when mixed with alcohol. I have met a lot of people who have felt really weird from this combination, so beware of that also. Who needs alcohol when you got durian anyways??
Durian is loaded with happy-time tryptophan, B vitamins, sulfur (toxic party!), magnesium, pottasium, copper and manganese, and vitamin C (isn’t everything?). It will mellow the warrior within with its phytoestrogens.
It is used to make me happy, fill my belleh with its outstanding lusciousnesses, etc. It is used by other people straight up, as a wonder fruit, or fermented as a savory and spicy dish. The seeds are fried or boiled and eaten in a manner similar to potatoes. It is used in medicine as a raiser of the blood, as an aphrodisiac, and as a fever reducer (although it is also a known fever inducer…).
But really, this is all about the NOMZ!