Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
There are several things that I dearly miss when I am away from home, but chief among them is the food. Globalisation being what it is, one can get almost anything in a reasonably cosmopolitan city, provided that you are willing to pay the price. Roti canai (Indian flat bread, typically eaten with curry), for example, costs less than a dollar at home, but will cost me more than five times that in Sydney. I have never, however, managed to find good, fresh tropical fruit at a halfway decent price anywhere far from home.
Durian is one such fruit. You can usually find the frozen sort in a supermarket in any Chinatown. However, they typically originate from some farm in Thailand, where they pluck the fruit from the trees before they are ripe, rendering them bland and unflavourful to the average Malaysian palate. Here in Malaysia, we do it the proper way, i.e. we wait until the smell is so deliciously pungent that its own mother can’t stand it any more and drops the fruit unceremoniously onto the ground in a huff. Only then do we step in and pick these stink bombs off the ground to be carted to the market.
The only proper way to enjoy durian is to eat it at the roadside stalls. This is mainly because if you even think about transporting them home in your own car, you’ll have to air your car out for weeks and leave slices of stale bread and bricks of charcoal in the car to soak up the smell for good measure.
Roadside durian stalls have evolved to the point where they are almost becoming proper restaurants. Custom-made racks proudly display the different species of durians; patrons are offered water and even fresh coconut milk to wash down the durians; there are even sinks for washing your hands after you’ve gorged yourself (no soap, because everyone knows no soap will remove the smell of durian from your fingers).
Picking a good durian is an art form, and, much like cheese, what you consider to be a good durian will depend on your personal taste. In general, durians can be sweet, bitter, or somewhere in between. Sweeter durians tend to have darker, almost orange flesh while lighter flesh is generally a warning that it will be very bitter. By sniffing the end of the durian, one can generally get a good indication of the taste of the flesh inside.
Your durian should have sharp needles and a firm husk without any cracks, as this is a sign that the fruit is overripe, which may result in overly watery flesh. When splitting the husk, the two halves should snap apart cleanly.
In all cases, the flesh of a good durian should be smooth and creamy; if you find that your durian is on the dry side and has little lumps in it (what the Cantonese call “fan shu” or potatoes), then you’ve picked a bad fruit and should start over. Worms are not commonly found in durians, but if you find a stray one, this is a good sign, as it means that your fruit was spared the insecticide, if not for all of its life, than at least in the recent past. Just don’t eat the infected area.
Good species to look out for are the “mao san wong” or musang king, D24, “ang he” or red prawn, and XO, which some say have a hint of liquor.
No amount of soap, antibacterial gel, or disinfectant will get the smell of durians off your hands. But if you hold the durian husk under the tap and wash your hands in the run-off, the smell will magically disappear. At least for a while.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It may smell like a garbage dump, but it tastes amazing, and when you get right down to it, lots of people from this part of the world will tell you that it smells and tastes much better than a ripe Stilton or other smelly cheese. So there.
This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh.
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