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  • Writer's pictureRaji Writes

Durian (an experiment)

Updated: Oct 26, 2019

In San Francisco, there is a restaurant in Chinatown on Washington Street at Kearny called Penang Garden. It serves Thai-Malaysian-Singaporean cuisine in a garden-themed setting. I went there for lunch one day with a colleague, taking a break from attending a conference in the general vicinity.

We ordered a couple of dishes to share. Okra, which was in season, an eggplant and tofu dish, and coconut rice. The okra was particularly well-prepared. Crisp outside, moist inside and just delicious.

Glancing at the dessert menu, I noticed "Durian pancakes." This peaked my interest. I had only heard of durian and the strong, mostly negative reactions it elicited. I had never had the occasion to try it. Here was my opportunity! Confirming with the server that it was offered that day, I ordered it.

About five minutes later, the server brought a dish with what looked like crepes with the durian inside, sliced into 1 inch long strips. He seemed apologetic, "The smell is not good, but the taste is very good." It looked quite inviting to me. I cut a small piece of the warm crepe, put it in my mouth and started chewing slowly. I noted tastes of passion fruit, jackfruit, mango. And was that a hint of papaya? It was a tropical extravaganza! "What is the fuss about?!" I exclaimed to my lunch companion, "This is delicious!" He nodded, saying he liked it too.

A minute later I felt it. The aftertaste. It was unpleasant – a taste I couldn't place. Strangely putrid. The taste intensified slowly and my discomfort grew. I put my fork down, surprised at this unexpected turn, and took a sip of water. To no avail. The taste persisted. Puzzled and curious, I decided to taste another mouthful. But no, the lovely tropical smorgasbord, while still there, was tainted with and eventually overcome by the lingering aftertaste.

My lunch companion declared that it needed vanilla ice cream. We ordered some, and it salvaged the experience somewhat. But still, the aftertaste lingered. It abated somewhat after many more sips of water followed by eventually brushing my teeth.

Likely under the influence of the durian, I came up with a cockamamie theory that I wanted to test. It went like this. I like cilantro and my daughter hates it. It is a genetic trait, I understand. Perhaps durian, also sharp and pungent in a sense, was related to this predetermined cilantro response? I definitely do not like durian, and perhaps… she would like it?

I had to do the experiment. I asked the server to box what remained. I wrapped a plastic bag around the box and tied it tightly so as to let none of the odor escape. And then I went back to my conference, the small box in my bag.

I drove home a few hours later, and remembered only after dinner that I had…a surprise for my daughter. "What is it?" she asked.

I went to retrieve it from my bag where it had sat, unrefrigerated, for a few hours. As I untied the plastic bag, the odor hit me. Fetid, overpowering. My daughter commented, simply and accurately,"It smells bad."

"Just try it," I pleaded. "I want you to taste it and tell me what you think." Looking wary, but indulging me, she cut herself a piece and put it in her mouth, and within a few seconds declared, "It tastes like vomit!"

I explained my cilantro-durian theory, during which she (poised beyond her 10 years), viewed me with amusement and skepticism. After telling the story, I closed the box, took it outside the house and dumped it in the compost bin, firmly shutting the lid after it was in there.

As I tell you the story, I can see the warm fresh crepes, steaming lightly. I can taste the pleasant intermingling of the tropical fruit. And then, the buildup of the ghastly aftertaste, the stench of the durian after it had sat for a few hours. My daughter likes to tell this story, and it is quite entertaining to hear it from her perspective.

Curious to try it? Who knows, you may like it. Some think it is a wonderful delicacy. You may too! The vast majority of people, be warned, have a reaction more similar to what folks at this Australian library experienced.

Dear Reader,

There are always gremlins on websites. Some stole the comments that some of you had posted, from every page. Luckily, I had copies, and I have pasted those images back here. I love hearing from you. Please use the Comments box to share your thoughts as Disqus is no longer supported. I will try keep the gremlins at bay.


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