Last weekend I was invited to a
lesbian friendly poker party. Alternating between making bets and small talk, I commented to my Chinese friend on how envious I was every time I saw a Facebook post from her about discovering a new durian flavored treat. Upon hearing my comment our gracious host ran to fetch me a durian popsicle from the freezer. As I gently unwrapped the plastic cover, everyone fled from the poker table (alright two people remained but of course one was the now not-so-gracious host and the other one also eating a durian popsicle). Windows were immediately opened. People were fanning themselves.
I took a bite out of the popsicle. It was an orgy in my mouth.
I grew up gorging on the famously (infamously?) putrid yet succulent “king of fruits” every summer. But ever since I moved Stateside, I have always had roommates and never dared to bring a fresh durian home at the risk of being murdered in my sleep. Not only does it taste and SMELL delicious to me, as cliché as it may sound, durian has always reminded me of my childhood in Hong Kong. Due to its smell and sticky yellow texture, durian is nicknamed “cat poo” by Chinese.
For the uninitiated, here is some information on durian from Wikipedia: “The durian is the fruit of several tree species belonging to the genus Durio and the Malvaceae family (although some taxonomists place Durio in a distinct family, Durionaceae). Widely known and revered in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, the durian is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk”
In other words it is an “Asian fruit”. It can kill you with its thorns if it falls on your head or makes you vomit if you don’t like the smell. Hong Kong director Fruit Chan has made the best use of a durian in his 2000 film Durian Durian: as a weapon/plot device within the film and a symbol for the contrast in danger and repulsiveness and inherent beauty of the city of Hong Kong.
What really perplexes me about durian is what creates the great “love it or hate it” divide? I enjoy eating stinky tofu too and I definitely agree it is indeed stinky. But I will NEVER say the smell of a durian is repugnant.
At first I thought non-Asians or any other people who did not grow up with durian and had limited access to the “exotic” fruit would mostly be the ones who hated it. Like of course Andrew Zimmern would be repelled by it. Yet Anthony Bourdain loves it. And judging from the poker party, it is a great divide among Asians too. The general reaction to a durian ranges from “I love it and can’t live without it” to “it smells a little but it’s alright” to “it smells like old gym socks and makes me gag”. As a result the fruit is banned from hotels and most public places.
Someone please find me a scientist who can unlock this mystery!
For what it’s worth, durian will always be the dearest fruit in my heart. It is controversial, dangerous, sexy, exciting, delicious and simply odd from a conventional viewpoint. So in that respect, dare I say, durian is also the queerest of all fruits?