Singapore Adventure

Friday, June 24, 2005

Durian Lessons: Part I
by venitha

It's ugly. It's smelly. It tastes like old socks. .

You can't talk about the food in Singapore for long without getting around to the subject of durian. Having heard of this famous fruit, Jim and I bravely tried it at a hawker centre on our trip here in January. It smelled horrible, tasted even worse, and had appalling staying power, especially given the teeny tiny bit of it that we both ate. For the rest of the day, you just couldn't get the smell out of your nose or the taste out of your mouth.

So far this month, we've managed to avoid the subject, though we've seen plenty of durian out there. Or perhaps I should say that we've smelled plenty. In Jim's words, "First you smell it; then you see it." Its perfume is so pervasive and distinctive that durian are not allowed in hotels and many grocery stores don't carry them. More than once on my shopping excursions, I've suddenly noticed a distinctly unpleasant aroma that just can't be mistaken for anything else. Sure enough, around the corner, a pile of durian. It's amazing.

And even more amazing is the fact that Singaporeans in general have somehow cultivated a taste for it, have been seduced by it, have become obsessed with it. I am left with a burning desire to understand why.

So when Choon Hwee, one of Jim's new co-workers and a self-admitted durian fanatic, offered to take us out to a really good place for fresh durian, we jumped at the chance. Okay, we didn't exactly jump. The truth is that we were terrified at the thought of what a "durian place" would smell like, and we were even more terrified that going to a "durian place" might require that we actually eat some durian. But we felt like we couldn't say no if we ever hoped to understand the durian and the Singaporean people.

After all, we are here for adventure, no?