The Good, The Bad and The Smelly

I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. The fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you’ll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelised banana and egg custard. — Thomas Fuller, American journalist

The durians are coming. I heard it’s the start of the king of fruits season. How do I know? My relative in Serian buzzed me last week and alerted me to their bountiful harvests from their hilly orchard.

“Hey brother! Long time no hear from you, lah. What happened? Mana kamu hilang? Heard you kena quarantined, ayuh!” That was my elderly cousin who gave me a harangue on my long silence — more than a year to be exact.

He continued: “Come, come, cepat. I have reserved some durians from your favourite pokok. Better come before they drop.”

To be honest, I felt bad. Guilty because I only visit my Bidayuh relatives once a year or perhaps every two years; that also during the durian season.

Mamit and his wife, Larisa, never fail to alert me to their bountiful harvests. They know about my passion for durians. Believe it or not, somehow, I have this uncanny ability to pick an exceptionally good durian. I must have inherited this ability from my mum, who is a durian connoisseur.

If my memory doesn’t fail me, my first taste of the king of fruits was in my hometown Sibu when I was seven. Dad brought home nine big durians which cost him less than RM20, I think.

My three siblings and I were given the chance to pick our own durians; but here’s the catch: we had to open up the thorny fruit by ourselves. No help from dad or mum.

While my three sisters had difficulty getting to the creamy delicious flesh, it was no sweat for me. Anyway, I helped my siblings with their fruits and I rewarded with a seed each from them.

I remembered eating all my share plus the additional three seeds. I enjoyed the fruit, it was divine. But I had to bear the consequences the next day; I felt so sick and was running a high fever, and my parents realised I was in no shape to attend class.

That was my first date with the king of fruits. And if you thought I would stop eating durians, you’re wrong. In fact, I was never able to resist the fruit since then.

Expect me to binge on more durians this season. Mamit, rest assured I will be there at your orchard.

Durian lovers should know how to enjoy the fruit. ‘Veterans’ can identify the different flavours, namely sweet, bitter, flowery and winey. But some durians have the numbing sensation, which is known as the “fifth flavour”.

The numbing effect occurs when there is a lot of gas in the fruit. Mamit told me that durians with the best numbing effect are those which drop from old trees, and which should be eaten within three hours.

But of course, not all durians from old trees produce the numbing sensation, I was told.

Anyway, one of the best durians that I have eaten are those from the trees at the Tes Paradizoo farm in Mile 16. The farm belongs to Dr Ashok Segar and his Filipina wife, Marites Delacruz Martinez alias Tes.

The pulpy flesh is bittersweet, buttery, fragrant and creamy — simply divine. You have got to try it and after taking one or two seeds you will swear that the Musang King, which has been overly overrated, is nowhere near it!

I have suggested to Dr Ashok to name the durians in his farm Marites Martinez, after Tes.

By the way, not many people might be aware of the health properties of durians. Despite the strong smell which could put some people off — especially Caucasians — durians are healthy, even more so than many other fruits — local or foreign.

The fruit is rich in iron, vitamin C and potassium. Now check this: it improves muscle strength and even lowers blood pressure.

But a bit of advice; don’t overeat. Several years ago, I read a report that a Sarawak politician had to be admitted to the hospital after complaining of breathlessness and dizziness following a binge.

The late Anthony Bourdain, who actually enjoyed eating the stinky fruit, reportedly described the aftermath of eating it: “Your breath will smell as if you had been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”

That’s how smelly it can be to some people. But to me the aroma is exotic.

There are around 30 different varieties of durian. The popular ones are Musang King, D101, Tekka, Black Thorn, Red Prawn, Black Pearl, D17 and Golden Phoenix.

I am fortunate to have tasted all these varieties when I was working in Malaya many years ago.

Before I end, let me help you to identify a good ripe durian. Simply listen for a knocking sound when you shake it because when a durian is ripe, the seed will loosen from the shell, thus creating a knocking sound.

Also pay attention to the weight of the fruit because a ripe durian will always be lighter than an unripe one.

Happy durian hunting!