News flash: durian stinks

News flash: durian stinks!

The King of Fruits!

I knew, of course. You could say I smelled it a mile away.

As soon as I saw the headline “What are the World’s Smelliest Foods?” on the MSN homepage this morning, I knew durian would make that list. Because it reeks.

I found this out the hard way, in the produce section of my local Cold Storage supermarket in Singapore. The nauseating noseful of funkiness I caught before even entering the store made me think something had died, or perhaps a sewage pipe had burst. But no, it was just the durian, doing what durian does best: stinking the joint out.

Travel writer Richard Sterling once wrote that the durian’s distinctive bouquet “is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.” Although I’ve tried, I can’t improve on that description. Except to point out that the sock must belong to an extreme sports enthusiast with an aversion to soap and water, the onions must be rotting, and the pig must have eaten the socks and onions (washed down with the turpentine) before doing his business.

I love the story of my family’s first taste of durian so much, I twisted Robin Pascoe’s arm until she agreed to post it on her Expat Expert blog. Then I sent the link to Valerie, the Singaporean receptionist at my dentist’s office, who’s always protesting that durian’s skunky reputation is undeserved. “It smells delicious,” she insists on insisting. I tell her I think she’s been dipping into the nitrous oxide when no-one’s looking.

I recently found durians in a Chinese grocery store here in Canada. After travelling halfway around the world, they were a pale imitation of the “king of fruits” I’d known in Southeast Asia. They looked sallow and listless, which, coincidentally, is exactly how I always looked after flying from Singapore to Toronto. They even gave off the same scent I did: that vaguely sour, unwashed odour that comes from spending more than 20 hours crammed into a plane with other sweaty people.

Standing there in the supermarket, I’m not sure what disturbed me more: the fact that the mighty durian had lost its aroma mojo, or the realization that I sometimes smelled worse than an entry on the “World’s Smelliest Foods” list.

I considered buying some durian for old time’s sake, but I just didn’t have the heart. Without that gut-ripping stench, what’s the point?

If you’re interested in learning more about this iconic fruit, Wikipedia has an excellent page covering all things durian.  And if you have a story of your own to tell about a nasty (or perhaps just misunderstood) food you’ve encountered on your travels, click comments below and tell us all about it.

[Edited to add: When Robin Pascoe retired and shut down her blog, my durian story was left without a home. It later found refuge in Forced to Fly 2, an anthology of humour written by expats.]

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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27 Responses to News flash: durian stinks

  1. Mette Weber says:

    I love and miss my durian living in Denmark now – Had it on my honeymoon first time

  2. Pingback: What other bloggers are teaching me about Singapore « Expat Bostonians

  3. bookjunkie says:

    Hahahah I am so glad Crystal from Expat Bostonians directed me to your post. How could I have missed this one…a classic 🙂 Strangely makes me crave for durian.

    Think I love the scent as I’ve been having this since I was a toddler. Totally an acquired taste I think. It was a real treat for me always.

    Loathe the scent of durian products though, like the puffs, cakes, ice-cream etc……the smell is awful especially when sold in an air-conditioned place. yucky….I don’t know how to explain why exactly but it just is. Guess I like the fruit fresh out of the shell and unadulterated.

    • Maria says:

      I was hoping you’d weigh in on this one! I’ve never met a Singaporean who didn’t love durian and I’ve never met a foreigner who did — definitely an acquired taste. But I’m so surprised to hear your feelings about durian-flavoured products. I assumed that there wouldn’t be much of a smell. Now I’m kind of glad I passed on the durian ice cream after all.

      • bookjunkie says:

        I have 2 cousins who can’t bear the smell of the durian either and they were born and bred in Singapore 🙂 I guess some things can’t be acquired but I am glad I am ok with it, because I love the rich creamy taste so much.

  4. Warm greetings from sunny Singapore. I just discovered what is now my favourite treat from Bengawan Solo—Durian Salat, a thick layer of puréed durian over a slab of sweet sticky rice… YUM! Congratulations for being ‘Freshly Pressed’.

    • Maria says:

      Love Bengawan Solo — I seem to recall them doing a very nice pandan chiffon cake. And I think Durian Salat would probably be quite nice, if they could just do something about the smell. 😛

  5. milkitchen says:

    Most people from Southeast Asia love durian. We are so accustomed to the taste and smell, the description of it being smelly doesn’t record with us. On the contrary, I have the opportunity to try a Thai durian that was frozen and travelled 13,000km to a supermarket in Canada. The durian is “smellest” and it took the durian at least half a day to tawn and when it finally did, it is still smellest and taste by lychee. I am not very excited about durian that I can find in this part of the world because it doesn’t taste and smell like its’ original. Eating durian here is just like eating Poutine without the sauce and cheese. 🙂

  6. milkitchen says:

    I meant to say the durian here taste like lychee…sorry for the typo. 🙂

    • Maria says:

      Someone once told me that frozen durian doesn’t have any smell. I thought I’d try it, until someone else mentioned that it doesn’t have any taste, either. So I guess that means I won’t be eating durian in Canada, either.

      I actually prefer poutine without the sauce and cheese. 🙂

      • milkitchen says:

        Me too! I like fries with nothing else. Not that it is healthier. 😀 But I still love durian at its’ original smell and taste. Speaking of that, one of the secret ingredients in yesterday’s “Chopped” on the food network channel was durian and the chefs made durian won ton with masala sauce. They looks yummy. Remind me of the durian dumpling they served at the Mandarion Oriental hotel. 😀

  7. shreejacob says:

    Hi! I came across your blog from Freshly Press 🙂

    I am not an expat, I’m a Malaysian.

    I love durians!! – well I used to 😉

    I don’t mind the smell actually and it tastes absolutely divine!! I think I’ve just out grown it because it is quite “heaty” – have you ever experienced the “heaty” vs “cooling” foods while living in Singapore?

    It’s wonderful to see a fruit like the durian get so much of attention (good and bad)! I notice it’s one of those topics of discussion one can have with anyone, even locals!!! LOL!

    • Maria says:

      Heaty and cooling foods — yes, I heard that a lot. Didn’t know durian was heaty, though!

      • shreejacob says:

        Yup and mangosteens are cooling! Which is why (according to my late grandma) we eat durians and then balance it with eating mangosteens. I just took that as a ticket to stuff my face more 😛

      • Maria says:

        LOL. Well, as long as you’re balanced….

  8. my parents got posted to spore =) we LOVE durian though =)
    or we do THERE, back here in canada it tastes gross =( always makes me so sad when i walk by the frozen section and there are these horrid looking durians lying there =P

    BUT! if you mix them in with vanilla ice-cream and make durian ice cream its wonderful =)

  9. Celia says:

    So funny! I once had a bite of vanilla cake with durian cream icing ~ believe me, it was unintentional. It took me 2 days to get that taste out of my mouth.

  10. D.A.S. says:

    Is the taste good enough that it’s worth enduring the awful smell?

  11. mozz61 says:

    Acquired taste, acquired taste….it is not much different to those who are not used to cheese, especially blue cheese that smelt a mile and as equally bad, in my opinion and perfume to those who loved it ?

  12. akhlisblog says:

    We Indonesians are durian ‘worshippers’. Durian may be the best tropical fruit we’ve ever gotten here. Yes it stinks but it is the indefinable smell that makes durian durian…You know what I mean

    Cheers:)

  13. Jennifer says:

    Definitely an acquired taste!!

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