I had always wanted to try durian. I was seduced by the idea of the fruit with a delicious, creamy flavour but a noxious smell. But it wasn’t that easy to find it, and my quest for durian took me many years. A quest that took me through many countries, finally ending in Singapore.
My Quest For Durian
I first saw durian in a market in Abu Dhabi. A large green and brown oval-shaped fruit, covered in spikes. About 30 cm long, and weighing around 2 kg. I was half tempted to buy one, but the size put me off. I had visions of opening it in my hotel room and releasing a rank odour that would plague hotel staff and fellow guests for days!
I caught glimpses of the fruit elsewhere, but my next real encounter was at a self-service buffet in Thailand. I spotted the word “durian” above an innocuous-looking dessert and eagerly took a helping. However, both taste and smell proved to have been heavily disguised, and I was left unable to detect any distinctive flavour, delicious or otherwise.
The Official Fruit Of Singapore
I continued my quest in Singapore, where durian is regarded as the official fruit. It is the “king of fruits”, full of nutrients and antioxidants. Durian is said to have a whole host of health benefits, including strengthening the bones and the digestion and preventing cancer and other diseases. It contains trace minerals that may be helpful during pregnancy, and the seeds are rich in calcium. And, of course, its flavour is prized, a creamy mixture of sweet and savoury.
Singapore seems to have a love-hate relationship with its favoured fruit. The building of the Esplanade Theatres resembles a durian, and I even spotted a durian elephant by the quayside. At the same time you will see strict “no durian” signs on public transport, and even in taxis. In keeping with the country’s squeaky-clean image, every effort is made to avoid any whiff of the fruit. In fact, I still don’t really know what it smells like, but I have seen it variously described as “rotting meat”, “raw sewage”, and “stale vomit”.
The End Of The Quest
Food is one of my defining memories of Singapore. The restaurants lining the Boat Quay with tanks full of live fish and crabs. The cafés advertising crocodile meat and birds’ nest soup. I didn’t try either, nor did I sample the greenish-black century-old eggs that appeared in the hotel buffet one morning.
But I was determined to try durian while I was there. However, it might be the national fruit but it wasn’t easy to find. Presumably it is so rank that it is always consumed behind doors, a secret pleasure for its devotees. Eventually I found a street stall in Chinatown that was selling durian crepes. It was strangely deserted and the woman looked at me doubtfully as I approached. “It is very strong smelling,” she said.
Actually it did not smell particularly strong. But it was cold and tasted like sweet custard. I took one mouthful and threw the rest away.