Durian Days and Nights

Something that excited me most about my trip to China was anticipation of the food. I’m likely not alone in that regard, but perhaps I am more alone in what was enticing me most–durian. It’s a fruit that can also pass as a weapon, both in terms of its sharply spiked exterior (upon purchase, sellers will often line grocery bags in thick newspaper) and in terms of smell, which some have likened to that of a fresh gas leak, or rotten onions (and have also led some countries like Singapore to ban fresh durian on public transit). Famed chef and critic Anthony Bourdain, a fan of durian, was quoted as saying that after eating durian “your breath will smell as if you’ve been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” However, once you break open the shell, you are greeted by a fragrantly sumptuous and custard-like fruit that has been tempting and satiating adventurous food lovers for generations.

While it is often eaten for pleasure, durian has a long history of medicinal use. In traditional Chinese medicine, durian is believed to have warming qualities, and should therefore be avoided in summer months, or eaten in conjunction with something cooling. This may be a factor in why many places sell durian frozen, and consume it frozen on its own or mixed in smoothies and ice cream. Folk wisdom has also warned against consuming durian with alcohol, which has been corroborated with recent University research, apparently the high sulfur content in durian inhibits the body’s ability to detoxify itself. However, scientist interest in durian has been far-reaching. In fact, some scientists have been focusing their research on disaggregating the different smell compounds in durian. According to Scientific American, a researcher who was aware of smell barrier but still wanted to share his love for durian with the world has created a completely odorless durian, known as Chantaburi No. 1.

So whether you have your durian fresh, frozen, unscented, in gelato, or decorating a custard tart, it is definitely a must-try in China!


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