The kings of myth, legend, and cinema are typically the pinnacle of man. Handsome, noble, wise, unwavering; faultless creatures that transcend their biological form.
But then there's the occasional deviation, and one methinks probably more true to reality: the rotting, decrepit, corrupt monarch. Almost as vile in appearance as his foul essence within, this is the king who hath inspired many a violent revolution.
It is the latter of these two extremes that comes to mind when I hear durian described as the king of fruits. This is no just and noble monarch but he will certainly bring you to your knees.
Durian is legendary, particularly among any community fascinated with strange and exotic fruits. In many south-east Asian countries it is illegal to carry them on public transport and they are banned from many hotels. It's not hard to understand why but upon first glance the reasons aren't so obvious.
I first encountered durian in the flesh at a local flea market. The giant spiky ball was far too exotic to resist. I had a sneaking suspicion as to what it might be but I wasn't certain. This giant weapon of war had a sweet, floral fragrance; definitely not what I had learned to expect. Twelve dollars later and the 15 pound monster was dangling from my arm, imparting a strange feeling of power. Well, to be honest, there was nothing too strange about it. This was nature's version of the medieval mace. I could have crushed the skull of any would-be attacker looking to steal my day's bounty.
Upon arriving home, the strange treasure was too enticing to save for later so I quickly turned to the all-knowing internet to identify my catch. And there it was: Durian, the king of fruits, the most infamous of the world's edible (and survivable) plant products that doesn't illicit some sort of pharmacological reaction (except as a possible emetic).
Careful surgery is required to pierce the tough, thorny exterior to reach the flesh within, particularly if you don't want to damage yourself in the process. Regardless of the delicacy of the operation, this surgery is best performed outdoors, preferably with materials that are disposable or easy to wash. After the first cut, the reason for this becomes more than apparent.
From the recesses of the initial incision flows a stench reminiscent of an open sewer. Perhaps a bit more floral, but the stench of rot and sulphur dominates the surrounding air. One begins to suspect that this is no mere fruit, but the egg of some foul demonic creature.
Removing a portion of the husk to reveal the flesh within does little to quell this suspicion. An embryo? A large maggot-like larva? Scrambled eggs? I can't be expected to put that in my mouth, can I?
Yes, that's it, the edible flesh, the king of fruits and the source of the foul stench. So what's there to do but hold your nose and dig in?
How can I describe the taste? While I think about it, here's a few choice quotes from other, more gifted scribes on the subject:
"The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed"- Alfred Russell Wallace
"... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away."- Richard Sterling
"Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."- Anthony Bourdain
And tweeted by the ever-so eloquent and charming Steven Fry:
"@stephenfry: Eating durian fruit by the roadside. A stench straight from Satan's anal ring, but a taste from an angel's sugared nipple."
My assessment? Rotten egg and banana cream omelette with hints of year old mango cheesecake. At least that's what the sweeter, custardy parts taste like. The rubbery, egg-like flesh tastes like pure, unadulterated rot. But yes, the sweet custard; only mildly reminiscent of raw sewage does have a strange quality to it that compels one to eat more. There must be some sort of psychoactive effect to this odiferous, chemical cocktail to make a person want to keep taking bites between the retches. But even more vomit-inducing than the off taste is the overpower nature of the stench. More than anything, this foul odor permeates and saturates the experience, prompting the consumer to plug their nose when venturing to take a bite.
Strictly speaking in terms of nutrition, durian doesn't live up to its moniker. It's very high in sugar but does a decent amount of Vitamin C, some Potassium, and fats. I could understand all the hype if durian was some sort of nigh-incredible superfood, the maggot-like sections packed with vitamins and minerals but, strangely enough, all of the allure seems to be based on the vile flavor.
There's a wide variety of confections and sweets in southeast Asia in which durian is a primary constituent. Now, I've had those Harry Potter jelly beans that taste like vomit and other disgusting substances but they clearly a novelty. I couldn't even imagine taking a mere sip of a durian milkshake no matter how dilute the fetid, sewer flavor.
Rather than eating durian which, with its ghastly smell and odd flavor, I think nature is trying to dissuade us from doing, I think durian should instead be used as a weapon of war.
Exhibit A: its uncanny resemblance to a mace. The sheer bulk of this fruit with its array of sharp thorns make it a deadly armament, capable of crushing skulls.
Exhibit B: the smell. Anyone nimble enough to escape your wild swings with soon be overcome by the stench. And really, why damage the environment with manufacturing byproducts and waste all of that metal and plastic in the creation and use of tear gas canisters when you could just lob a durian into a crowd. They're even a renewable resource.
I'm planting my tree now so I'll prepared when the economy dissolves further and bands of former-middle-class marauders begin wandering the streets. What are you going to do when you run out of bullets? I'll be there with my formidable durian arsenal, crushing skulls and, in times of great desperation, grabbing mouthfuls of rotten mango omelette.