When it's durian time in Malaysia there is no escaping the pungent odour of this strange-looking fruit. Greeny-yellow in colour and covered with spikes it has the appearance of an outsized horse chestnut; but it is the distinctive smell that sets it apart from other fruit. Aficionados of the fruit say they find the smell irresistible, but its detractors have struggled to find an apt simile. It has been likened to rotting onions, unwashed socks and even carrion in custard, but the most accurate description by far is that of a sewer full of rotting pineapples. This malodorous fruit is so offensive to many people that the durian is banned on buses, trains, taxis and aeroplanes, and all hotel-doormen will bar entry to anyone trying to smuggle one into their establishment.
Older Malaysians remember the time when every kampung (village) had its own durian tree and the villagers eagerly waited for the fruit to ripen so they could gorge themselves. These days the demand for the fruit is so great that it is grown on plantations and the maturity of the trees is hastened by grafting. This has given rise to different strains of durian and the experts search the wayside stalls for their favourite1. These stalls cater for the durian connoisseur and list all the different variants for sale.
The inside of the durian is divided into five compartments, each containing a cream-coloured, custard-like pulp, which can be described as delicious‚ or foul‚ according to one's taste. Some say that if you can get past the smell you will enjoy the fruit, but as the fruit tastes like it smells this is doubtful. It is generally recommended that if you hate the smell, don't bother to taste it, especially as the taste lingers on and, as the fruit has a tendency to repeat on one for hours afterwards, this could prove disastrous!
The durian is said to be a 'heating' fruit, which is unusual as most fruits are 'cooling'. Legend has it that this heating property makes the durian an aphrodisiac. A local saying goes, 'When the durians come down the sarongs come off!'.
There is a caveat attached to durian eating; it is believed that under no circumstances should alcohol be drunk while eating it as this can cause serious illness or even death. But as no one is willing to put this to the test it is not entirely clear whether this is true or not. What can be ascertained is that excessive durian eating can cause abdominal discomfort or a sore throat.
Nevertheless, durian addicts cannot pass up any chance to eat the fruit, even though it's not cheap to buy. Even poor people will find the money somehow rather than miss out when the fruit is in season. Why do people persist with this controversial fruit? As Malaysians put it:
No one can resist durian. You will enjoy it so much that even if your mother-in-law passes by you won't notice her!