I get self-conscious every time I write about durian. You see, if I wrote about durian as often as I think about it, I’d have to rename this blog Durian Vagabond: Vagabonding in Pursuit of Durian.
I can’t help it though. To me, durian is more than a fruit in the way that to others, wine is more than a drink. Durian has an unmatched depth of flavor, each cultivar completely unique, each fruit unique. Is that a hint of mint? An aftertaste of onions? The brightness of vinegar highlighting a creamy almond custard? And the texture. Oh lordy, the texture. Soft, melting, rich, luscious, sexy. Yes, sexy. There’s a saying in Malaysia and Indonesia: when the durians fall down the sarongs go up. I can’t actually attest to that, but I can say that eating durian gives me a natural kind of high. From the first bite, warmth spreads through my body as a smile takes over my face. Though I would prefer to attribute its happiness-giving-qualities to magic, apparently durian contains tryptophan, a natural antidepressant also found in chocolate.
My friend here, Nutthavan, is often my partner in durian-related highjinks. She loves a perfectly soft and ripe durian as much as I and regales me with stories of the durian of her youth. She grew up in Trang, in southern Thailand, at a time when the ginormous and overly sweet Mon Thong (Golden Pillow) durian was not as prevalent as it is today. The durians then were smaller and less fleshy, but more intensely flavored. And they were allowed to ripen fully on the tree. You wouldn’t think to eat a durian until the tree had released it and it had fallen to the ground with a thud as if to say, “I’m ready. Come eat me! Enjoy!” Eating durian was (and still is) a social activity. Open a few durians and the smell will advertise their presence. Family and friends gather round, grinning with each taste as the magic (er, tryptophan) takes over.
Soft durian and sweet sticky rice accompanied by a durian-infused coconut milk sauce
Durian is widely known to be a heating fruit and is often eaten with the mangosteen, a cooling fruit, to maintain balance. Nutthavan likes to tell me that when she eats durian she doesn’t need a blanket at night. I always chuckle and nod, but what I don’t tell her is that this is Thailand—I never need a blanket at night. After all, durian season follows on the still-hot heels of the hottest season, as if it is Nature’s apology for all the misery She put us through during those sticky, sweltering, sun-drenched days. And with the first luscious bite of durian, all is forgiven.