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It takes a lot for me to lose my cool. I’ve managed 34-hour bus rides with locals lying in the aisles and smoking cigarettes. I’ve managed beds full of ants and squat toilets covered with cockroaches. I’ve managed scams, strep throat, and sleep deprivation.
So when I finally lost my cool and freaked out, what was it about?
Durian is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia. The fruit itself is sweet, but the skin smells horrible – like rotting flesh mixed with Windex. It’s an unmistakable odor that you will recognize anywhere.
But most importantly, durian is banned from hotels and public transportation in several Asian countries. That’s how you know I’m not freaking out over something inconsequential!
My hate affair with this fruit started on my first day of the trip.
I was visiting Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, and in a moment of insanity – probably due to the fact that I hadn’t slept a wink the night before – I decided to try a durian popsicle.
I took a lick and nearly spat it out. It tasted like a foot covered with onions! How could any Thai person stand durian, let alone request it as a popsicle flavor?!
Fast forward a few months later to the present. My friends and I were sitting down to dinner in Mui Ne when the telltale aroma hit my nostrils.
“Durian,” I muttered. “Where is it coming from?” Then I saw that the Vietnamese family sitting next to us had put a bag filled with durian on top of their table.
“Oh, hell no.” I sprang up and grabbed the nearest waitress. “Excuse me? Do you see that table?” I asked, smiling politely. “They have durian right there. Could you please ask them to put it away?”
The waitress shook her head. “No.”
I blinked. “The smell is awful. I can’t eat when I smell durian.”
The waitress giggled nervously.
“Maybe you can tell them to leave it on their motorbike?” I asked. “I don’t want to smell it while I eat!”
The waitress went to grab another waitress.
(Meanwhile, as this was all going on, the boys couldn’t care less. Some of them minded the smell, but not enough to complain.)
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the next waitress. “I don’t mean to be rude. But that family has durian on their table. Can you please ask them to move it to their motorbike?”
“No, we will not do that,” the waitress told me. “I am sorry.”
“But the whole restaurant smells like durian now!” It’s not like we were at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. The place was called Joe’s and they served burgers, for crying out loud. “I don’t think people here want to smell durian while they eat.”
“I am sorry,” the waitress repeated.
I went back to the table and continued to vent to the boys. “Did you know that they actually BAN durian on the subway in Bangkok and KL? And this is a restaurant! You think they’d be stricter about it in places where smell is of the utmost importance!”
Our food arrived and I tried my best to inhale it as I ate it. And you know what I found out? If I stuck my nose into my food, the durian smell wasn’t an issue. (It wasn’t my most attractive moment.)
The family with the durian had only come for drinks, and they left as we were finishing our meal. Instantly, the air cleared and all was back to normal.
Am I proud of my outburst? Not at all. It’s probably the closest I’ve been to the Ugly American stereotype in all of my travels. That’s embarrassing.
But seriously, I’m glad I made it through nearly four months without any major issues.
Honestly, give me the cockroach-covered squat toilet – I’ll gladly take that instead of durian.
39 thoughts on “Meet My Nemesis: Durian Fruit”
I’m so leery of going to most of Asia for this reason – I have very low tolerance for stinky and/or gross foods. I am sure I will be eating rice the whole time, and being sure to keep my eyes on my own plate for as long as I can. The sight of seeing someone eat something questionable will be enough to turn my appetite off!
Or, perhaps that would be a great weight loss strategy!! Hmmm….
Ohhh, please don’t think that, Dalene! The good food outweighs the bad food by SO much!! Especially in Thailand and Vietnam…and Cambodia…and Laos! 😀
I love durian. Jack would rather cut his own toes than being withint a 5 ft radius from one. One time my family was eating durian ice cream in the car and poor Jack had to hung his head out of the window for the whole ride.
P.S. Btw, I’m 99% sure the fruit in first and last are actually jackfruit and not durian. Maybe you can’t stand the smell of jackfruit too 🙂
Hahaha! Thanks for pointing it out. The smell is definitely the durian!
I’ve never really understood why so many people don’t like the smell of durian. Growing up in Philippines, the smell was the most talked about feature of the durian. It never really bothered me. I don’t like the taste of the fresh fruit itself, but the candies are sooo delicious.
I’m a very picky eater myself, but I don’t think I would impose my preferences on other people. I enjoy reading your blog and your stories, but you really painted a “pretty picture” of the “ugly American.”
Awww. Thank you, Sheila!
I agree with Jill that the Jackfruits made their way to your pics. Durians grown on the tree branches and are stinkier. Growing up my neighbor had a Durian tree. You learn to coexist with the smell, that is until they fall from the tree and start rotting on the floor.
That said, I think it’s an acquired taste and smell. Most people ban them from indoors due to the strong odor they emit. Too bad not everyone follows that example.
Despite the fact that I grew up in Canada, I have tried Durian several times and personally I don’t mind it. That being said, I won’t be rushing to the nearest Asian Supermarket to pick some up. I think a lot westerners have a problem with it because of the preconception that all fruit should be sugary and sweet as opposed to pungent and savory.
-Pretty sure those are jackfruits in the first and last pics too but, although not as stinky, jackfruit isn’t great either.
Same counts for me. It’s not that I love Durian, but I also ate it a couple of times and it was good.
By the way, it’s the King of Fruits… 😉
It sounds absolutely foul!! It has given me a morbid curiosity though, and I really want to smell/eat it now!!! 🙂
I love durian! and yes Kate, before reading your last 4 lines of this post, I thought of you as the stereotypical ugly American..hehehe.. No offense. And by the way, I think the SE Asia in general loves durian and is used to it, and durian banning is actually only in few places. Majority of the people don’t mind it.
Hmm,… I agree that the fruits in the picture are jackfruits, not durians. Are you sure it was durian that the Vietnamese family had on their table?
Hahaha. Yes. I didn’t look — I smelled it!
wow, that sounds like a pretty intense hatred. However, the description is enough to take your word for it. That is how I feel about Roquefort cheese here in Argentina. Over 4 years I ordered a 4 cheese pasta that has roquefort in it and as it approached the table all 15 people’s noses crinkled. We assumed they were taking out rotting garbage. Nope, it was the cheese. Now the mere smell of it makes me want to hurl.
My mom lived in Malaysia when she was in her teens and said they had commercials showing a guy passed out in the back of a truck with the slogan “Ishmael had too much durian”. Apparently it’s pretty potent if you eat too much.
My food vice was stinky tofu in Taipei. I would gag whenever I smelled it and have to cross the street. The queues for these stalls were always huge. Bleargh!
Hahaha!! I’ll remember that, Tom — too funny! And stinky tofu sounds gross…
Kate, I hate durian just as much as you. I swear it smells like old sweaty gym socks had been stuffed inside for years to ferment. Unfortunately, my mother LOVES it and durian was a frequent fruit in my childhood home. It was like throwing up in my mouth every time I walked in from school if she had some that day. DISGUSTING!!!!!!
And you NEVER got used to it!!
All I can say is, I’m so glad this post is not scratch-and-sniff!
I’ve heard all about how disgusting durian is. And it’s one of the foods even Andrew Zimmern can’t stomach. That, and the fact to you compare its smell to “rotting flesh mixed with Windex” and “a foot covered with onions”… Gross.
Hi Kate, I feel bad for you. The smell of durian can be a bit much. But for me, it’s a reminder of home in Davao city, southern part of the philippines. A lot of people don’t like it the first time. But it’s worth another try. Who knows? You might just love it like I do,
I can’t help but notice that the first and last photos are of jackfruit and not durian?
Haha, yes, I screwed up. Know that I maintain contempt for durian.
I’ve tried durian. Loathe the smell. And I really can’t get why people are so overwhelmed by the flavour, which is on the mild and bland side… Love the Vietnamese service ethos.
Yep, the smell is awful, but I found the taste to be like a sweet cream cheese. Maybe it varies by how ripe it is? Happily we have it fresh in Asian markets here in Seattle. but I must admit, I likewise once tried it frozen as ice cream and it was blech!
I’m sorry that you didnt enjoyed the durian. I personally love the durian so much. LOL!
by the way, the first pic you have…is definetely not durian…we call it cempedak back home.
Yuck! My boyfriend accidentally ate a durian ice cream while we were in Vietnam. He thought it was pineapple flavoured.
HA HA…this is hilarious! I am not a fan of durian either, but it’s a staple here in Taiwan. You definitely don’t want to come here then….we have stinky tofu, which is FAR worse than durian. Considering some places make it with maggots and rotting fish, it beats out durian in my book. The stench radiates from booths away and one of the night markets is like stinky tofu mall — hideous. I don’t notice the durian near as much. I’ve had several bites of it in ice cream and I’ve brushed my tongue for days to get the taste out. LOL
BTW, whoever said it above is right — the first and last photos appear to be jackfruit. Similar to durian on the outside, jackfruit is larger and the looks like the last photo. Durian is bigger and more disgusting looking in my opinion. Many Asian fruits are more pungent versus sweet like what we get in the US. It’s definitely an adjustment, especially when most desserts are made with them here versus being the sugar overloads I grew up with.
Everyone keeps talking about stinky tofu! I feel like I have to sample it now…
that was not durian in the first picture ehhee durian has sharper bark . I forget the named but if am not mistaken in Indonesia that is called by jipang
in Indonesia its might be impossible to ask people move or stop eating durians because most people here love it, and for most people here the smell is appetizing, its only about the culture I guess heheh 🙂
Durian produces a powerful insulin response, and is quite satiating. Having too much durian is quite easy to do – and this can produces unpleasant sensations in the digestive tract. I can’t eat a whole durian all at once. I practically have to carry it with you for a while.
Wow, are we polar opposites! Eating durian was the sole purpose of my year long trip around Southeast Asia. We went to nine different countries and ate durian almost every day. You would NOT like traveling with me, and I would be super annoyed at your hypersensitivity to the smell. Too bad for you, and more durian for me 😀
Haha! It’s all good, Lindsay. We’re back in SE Asia now and I still can’t stand it. Mario barely notices it!
I betcha chang guk jang or in English “Dead Body Soup” would give the smell of durian a run for it’s money…
Yup, I agree with you in my country durian forbidden in hotel and other public building. But I very like this fruit
I just came across your blog a couple of months ago while me and my boyfriend where looking for a nice island to relax at our last week in Thailand, and have been more or less constantly reading all of it:p Hence the comment on this old post!
But about the durian, in my hometown Trondheim (Norway), my “father in law” told me, some ten years ago there were reports of a gas leakage in the city centre and a lot of people were evacuated. After searching long for where the leak was, it turned out it was an Asian foodshop having durians on display outside of their shop.
He is also married to a Filipina woman, and she brought the stuff over to our house while they where visiting. The taste is quite allright, but after a day in the fridge I completely lost it myself. “NO, THIS SH*TTY SMELLY DISCUSTIG FRUIT IS BANISHED TO THE VERANDA AS OF THIS INSTANT!” I almost puked everytime I opened the fridge :p
you did take the picture with jack-fruit not durian
Love durian but didn’t like it initially. Definitely an acquired taste. Like other fruits, there’s a huge range of durian tastes and textures too. Apples for example can be extremely sweet with no tart while others can be too sour for some to enjoy. No doubt the smell is pungent. Was interesting reading this guy’s experience: http://gadling.com/2011/09/08/learning-to-love-durian/. What’s funny is a lot of American’s love cheese and think nothing of it. You take certain varieties, like goat cheese or other non-mild cheeses, to some parts of Asia and they may have that same reaction that you had with durian. This is a rarity though…to find those cheeses in Asia. My mom almost threw up when she smelled parmesan for the first time. To each their own.
Hi Kate, just want to point out that the fruit on the picture is jackfruit or ‘nangka’ in Indonesian. I’m Indonesian (and loooves durian btw 😉 so I assure you 110%. Do you happen t have other durian pictures?