Known as the "King of Fruit," the durian is a tropical fruit rarely seen outside of Southeast Asia. The durian, named for an Indonesian word meaning "thorny," resembles an unripe coconut with spines covering its thick, green rind. Infamous for its strangely foul smell, the flesh of this fruit is nonetheless sweet and delicious.
Partner to the "Queen of Fruit," the mangosteen, durians grow primarily in plantations in the jungles of Sumatra, Malaysia and Thailand. When ripe, they fall from tall, elm-like trees, creating a hazard for anybody walking below. They can then be split open with a sharp knife or chisel. Inside, you'll find the smooth flesh, or aril, in sections, like the meat of a walnut. Hidden in the flesh are five brown, inedible seeds. Once ripe, they rot very quickly, therefore it isn't feasible to export them widely to Europe or the Americas.
If you get a chance to select a durian, carefully choose one that is ripe. The five segments of the rind should be slightly separated, so you could slide a knife in between them. Make sure to check the exterior for holes made by a worm, squirrel, or a former customer! Next, you should shake the fruit gently, hoping that the interior of the seed pod moves slightly. Finally, smell the fruit. This will take practice, but it should not smell too wet or fetid, nor too mild and dry. A perfect durian might remind you of nuts, honey, or custard.
Westerners frequently cite the unsavory smell as a reason to avoid this delectable treat. An early explorer of the region described it as "rotten onions," but trusted the recommendation enough to risk a taste. At once, he became enthralled by the buttery, subtle flavor, urging other foreigners to try it for they won't be disappointed. In fact, the smell is still so repulsive to some, the fruit has been outlawed in certain hotels, trains, buses, and other public spaces.
Most connoisseurs enjoy durians raw, straight off a cart, when the streets of Indonesia are filled with fruit in May and June. However, chefs incorporate it into cake, candy, pudding, ice cream, or any sweet, creamy dessert. Fermented durian serves as a tart sauce for shellfish.
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