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Dec 22, 2006 07:36 PM

Durian 101

You have to be brave to experience durian.
If you do it wrong the first time, you'll probably not be back for a long time, if ever.

If you do it right, you'll eventually hope that people keep avoiding it so the price stays low. Addicts must be spreading the bad rap, since in Southeast Asia, what you hear more often is "I'd sell my parents so I can afford durian."

Here's how you do durian, unless you are a true gourmand who gets it the first time. Step by step.

1) Get mentally ready. While it IS a fruit, do not expect it to taste like fruit - expect creamy, sophisticated, cheesy sweet custard.

2) Start with a popular durian drink, sold at boba or bubble tea stores. In San Francisco, there is only one chain I like (4 stores owned by the same family in the area), and that is Sweetheart Cafe, which uses real fruit. Ask for "durian smoothie with pearls", one of their best sellers.

3) Move onto frozen durian. Little odor, just savory.

4) Time to crack a real durian - start with a Thai durian. Serve it on a plate seedless with a spoon or a fork, and don't eat it with your fingers, for God's sake.

5) If you tolerated it so far you can graduate to the ripe Penang durian. Cook something meaty -mutton curry- before you cut up the fruit.

Durian makes a good dessert paired with a sauternes, something resembling a Chateau d'Yquem. I was curious about this wine so we tried it years ago at a wonderful little restaurant Hiramatsu on Ile Saint Louis in Paris (I forget the vintage - bye bye all the francs we had). Good but overhyped.

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  1. But the detractors are not kidding about the lingering effect of Durian, particularly a post-repast belch. Hotels and transports don't allow them on the premises.

    By the way, there are a number of Vietnamese durian pastries that are tasty but don't have the aftereffects. But then neither do they have the scent or texture of the fresh fruit. I've even seen durian chewing gum in 99 Ranch Market.

    1. First time I tried a durian was taking it back to my hotel in Singapore. Ate them straight out of the bag, chewing around the seeds.


      1 Reply
      1. re: tomishungry

        I first had durian on a small Indonesian island called Nusa Lembongan. It was a most delicious thing. I haven't had any that have tasted anywhere near as good here in the US. That's one thing I'd travel around the world to eat again...

      2. I tried a durian shake a few months ago to be adventurous and I thought I had died and went to culinary It was the most revolting thing I have ever tasted. 2 weeks ago I ventured to try it again. Had a durian ball at a restaurant I went to. It was durian coated with some type of confection. Was even more horrifying then the first time. I think I would pass.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Johnresa

          My parents have never liked durian-flavored anything but do like the fruit itself. I used to hate the fruit when I was a pre-teen living on the East Coast of Malaysia. When I went back in 2003, I liked it - especially one that was fresh off my friend's father-in-law's tree.

        2. I tried the fresh, and while the smell was absolutely horrible, the flavor was ok. My only problem with it was it had a kind of natural gas-odorant kind of flavor that I have experienced in asafoetida, too, and I don't really enjoy.

          For that type of fruit, I much prefer the more straightorwardly sweet cherimoya or the white sapote.

          1. I sometimes think Durian really got a bad publicity. Its not really as horrible as people make it out to be. If you want to wean yourself onto Durian I think starting out with the one sold in the Asian market in the frozen food section is the best place to start. I think when it is frozen it taste pretty good.

            If you are going straight for the fresh Durian start out with one from Thailand rather than Malaysia. If you are in the US I think almost all Durians in the US are from Thailand. Commit yourself for trying to eat Durian THREE times. If you made it to the third you made it to the promise land.

            4 Replies
            1. re: designerboy01

              "Its not really as horrible as people make it out to be."

              I agree completely. The problem is that people sensationalize it and so it has become the thing of chowhound lore.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                I'm tired of watching's people's reaction before they eat it and say how disgusting it is. It is obviously more in their mind and they are not in touch with reality.

                1. re: designerboy01

                  aroma is a more important aspect of "tasting" than flavor. if something smells like a boy's dirty gym socks -- i.e. durian -- it holds little appeal for me. i found the texture fine, but if i want custard, i'll eat custard.

                  i hardly think i'm out of touch with reality, but i don't need to eat it again.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Bad publicity is a formidable thing to overcome. And while it smells nothing like what people have described, how can you argue with such a specific accusation?

                    True, of course aroma is a huge aspect. I remember Malaysian friends of mine, connoisseurs of durians, starting to salivate when they smelled durian, because there was no way they could resist the sweet smell of the king of all fruit.

                    I've tried the real durian. The bubble tea actually does smell like the real thing. One and the same. If you asked me, I would describe the smell and taste as closest to the raw milk epoisses with tons of savory notes. At more than $4, it sells briskly at Sweetheart cafe. So there are a lot of people out there who secretly hope that there are more people like you.