In Hong Kong there are loads of “western” supermarkets. These supermarkets carry a plethora of things from the USA and Europe, and since there are so many people buying them, things are fairly reasonable in price (with the exception of yogurt). These supermarkets are called things like Fusion, Wellcome (spelled wrong like that), Taste, and so on, and while they are considered “western”, they carry a lot of local and regional wonders, too.
Today when I was walking from one place to another in Wan Chai, I walked into a Wellcome Supermarket. It was downstairs from the street level, and upon every step, there was a funky, sour smell that started to hit me more and more. I knew the smell. It is one of those smells that you only need to smell a few times and it is burnt into your memory. And upon reaching the bottom and turning the corner, with my eyes watering from the stench, I came across the culprit: Durian.
Durian is popular fruit in parts of Asia – and it’s smell is famously always being talked about. For example in Kuala Lumpur, I remember seeing lots of signs banning it – including on the metro. It has a prickly outside as you can see in the photo above, and you cut through it to get to the fruit. So let’s get this straight. The smell is sour/sweet – like a rotting mango that had been sprayed with lemon-scented household cleaning product containing ammonia. And, the outside is super prickly and moderately dangerous. So, it must taste awesome then, right?
Nope. I tried some super fresh Durian on a trip to Malaysia 5 years ago, and I still remember exactly what it tastes like. It has a resemblance to the taste of sauteed onions, if you left them in the back of your refrigerator next to some rotting vegetables for a few weeks and it absorbed the flavor while getting moldy. That’s pretty close to what Durian tastes like. I am almost gagging as I write this, but I feel I am doing a public service so I must continue. To make things confusing and maybe give the flavor more negative impact, the flavor is not in any way connected to the smell. You would expect a bit more “fruity” taste with that scent, but instead it is as I described. And finally, there’s the aftertaste, which sticks with you for a few hours after just taking 1 bite.
Surely eating Durian is an acquired taste, like anything wonderful, like fine cheese – and I love a good smelly cheese. But unlike cheese, there is absolutely nothing potentially pleasant in my mind about the flavors that came through in Durian. As it is right now, there are 2 things on earth I will not even entertain the idea of eating: Uni (sea urchin sushi, which tastes like the smell of funky oceanside), and Durian. Maybe once I forget the flavor again in another 5 or 10 years I will try again, but until then, I’ll keep eating all the other wonderful fruits in the world. 🙂