Monday, August 23, 2010

Durian, Scourge of Mass Transport!

Sure, its a bit dramatic but read on...

If it is from Asian cuisine, most likely I will eat it.  Cruelty free of course, and there are some things I think I may pass on, but for the most part, I have yet to have had a bad Asian or Asian inspired meal.  Thai food can be sublime, Indian is hot and savoury and probably the best vegetarian food, and Chinese food is commonly available and the worst of it is better than the best you'll find at some fast food chains on the roadway.

I'm talking to you Golden Starches.

Lately we have been watching a lot of shows from the Travel Channel.  The wonderful, pixieish Samantha Brown and the Crazy Big Brother Anthony Bourdain have been wandering around Asia.  Both have hit the same spots, and I think if I ever hit the lottery they have convinced me that I have to go to a Hawker's Market in Singapore and have some local delicacies.  Both presenters seem like people who would be a fascinating person to spend a lunch with, and you had better follow their suggestions because I'm sure they'd find something in your own back yard that you never knew existed and is now your favourite for the next year or three.

Having moved to Florida, I noticed strange and wonderful trees with fruit here that you only see in stunted varieties or very seasonally back in Philly.  I've written many times about my love for Mangoes.   I have a Mango tree in the yard, along with a Banana, Lemon, and of course a Honeybell Orange.  In the neighborhood, there are Papaya trees with fruit the size of a honeydew, a few Soursop trees and some others that I can't describe. 

Luckily there are no Durian.  They won't grow here because it gets below 72 and they require full tropical conditions - Fort Lauderdale is not tropical, that starts 20 miles north of Havana if you are being particular. 

Durian is something that has been described as a custard strongly flavored of almonds.  The problem is the smell.  They are banned from hotels and public transport in Singapore because the smell of them when opened is more aptly described as a stench of mouldy sweatsocks mixed with carrion.  Certain varieties are worse, others not so bad.

Notice where this picture is taken - on the hood of the car in the driveway.  This is not even a true Durian, and is only "flavoured" by Durian. 

Why on the car?  Notice that there are three missing on the left, and there is a very heavy plastic bag the whole package is sitting on.  Saturday I found an excellent Asian Market and went shopping.  Got my Oolong Tea which is my first choice for tea both hot and iced.  I got some wonderfully odd candies there flavoured of tropical fruits, some Kimchi, and of course these wafers.

You aren't going to find Durian Flavoured Cream Wafers in a Publix. 

So why on the car?  I'm getting to that!  Chill!

I got all my prizes back from the market and decided it was time for a snack.  I had heard about all the dire warnings of how pungent Durian could be, so I smiled thinking I had beat that by getting a confectionary made from something resembling Durian.


With the scissors piercing the mylar wrapper, I was assaulted by what can only be described as a wall of smell.  I'm thinking that there were fruit scents mixed in with Skunk Cabbage, Sewage, and perhaps a little pepper just to make the eyes water. 

Just who knew you could eat Skunk Cabbage too?

I had three little wafers, wrapped the rest up in that bag and had a laugh.  It was about 3 hours later that I noticed that the house still smelled of Durian when I was coming back from the dog walk at 6.  Luckily I had been given some green coffee beans and started roasting them for the neighbor across the street.  I did three cycles of roasting over the next hour and a half, and when I came back in to the house, the pungent smell of coffee roasting was fighting that of the Durian and I knew that it was going to be that way for a while.

Sunday morning, for a snack, I grabbed that bag and had some Durian wafers out on the car.  Even opening the bag a day later was a feat.  For two days, after eating those wafers on top of the flavors of the food that I normally ate, I tasted Durian.  After burping, I didn't taste chilis from the leftover Chinese Food that I doctored with Sriracha Sauce, I tasted Durian.  Trust me, Sriracha Sauce is one of the strongest spices I keep in the house!

Until Durian.

Fast forward to Sunday.  I woke up and didn't notice anything awry, went through my motions and even prepared a Pizza with scratch crust, four cheeses, Peppers, Onions and Ham.  After we had our pizza, I took Mrs Dog out for a lap around town and when I got back there it was in the air, under the Pizza and Coffee smell the house usually has... Durian.

Durian, at least in the case of these wafers, was not an unpleasant taste.   It tastes like ... Durian.  Distantly like Almonds, somewhat sweet with a strange undernote of something almost chemical.  I really don't know how to explain it.  The people in Singapore are right, this does NOT belong on Mass Transit.  Leaving one open inside of a car on a hot day would mean the car would be a total wreck and a write off.  But the flavour is something that you just can't describe. 

At some point, I'll go back to the Asian Market.  I've learned if you can find good Kimchi, Oolong Tea, and Durian Fruit, it is an Excellent Market, should be patronized and happily so.  The people at the market were helpful and I found everything I needed.  They also have, right by the door in mesh bags, Durian fruit. 

So the next time I go back, I may get one Durian.  They grow to the size of a large papaya - about a foot long, although the ones I saw were about the size of a softball - six inches.  Trust me though, when I get this fruit that is covered in spines and has a rough woody skin, I'll open it outside and seal it up inside of a glass jar.  Not something you particularly want inside your house..

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