Durian is the noxious, spiky fruit that is found throughout Southeast Asia, loved like a member of the family in Sumatra; it just so happened that durian was in season when I hit northern Sumatra. I had heard about it before my trip from travel shows and books. Peoples’ reactions to eating it vary greatly. Some people love it and can’t get enough, some can’t get beyond the smell even before it’s opened. Sumatrans I spoke to believed it has serious addicting qualities and always stressed eating it in moderation.
I was on my way to Kutacane on a minibus. All the other passengers had been let off along the way so it was just me and the driver.
“Durian?” he said pulling over to a stand.
“I want to try it, but in Kutacane, yes?” I told him, wanting to get there quickly so I could find another bus to take me to the countryside. Of course he had no idea what I was saying and so bought a couple durian
Ripe durian is the size and shape of a football with rounded ends. Sharp spikes stud the outside, each about a centimeter in diameter and half as high. If you throw a durian up into the air and catch it you will have bloody holes dotting your palms and fingers. Before it’s cut open it smells like any kind of anonymous rotting fruit but slightly sweeter. Slits are hacked into one end with a machete and the layers are peeled back into sixths when the rotting fruit smell is intensified and the scent of rotting onions is added. The fruit stall owner carried the carving out deftly and handed us the opened durian. The stink immediately filled the van and the driver offered it to me.
I pulled out a pit the size of two golf balls coated with goopy yellow flesh and smelled it – not any better up close. The driver grinned at me, spit his pit into his palm and threw it out the window and grabbed another one. I put mine in my mouth, ready to turn my head out the window should I begin gagging and vomiting, but instead of tasting apples and oranges and bananas after seething in their own juices in the hot sun for a month, I tasted sweet, sweet custard. We finished both durians and sat with full stomachs and awful smells wafting from our lips. I had the same revolted reaction every time I took my first bite during each of my many durian sessions in Sumatra, and each time there was a moment when I didn’t believe there was any way I was going to put this horrible smelling piece of fruit into my mouth and actually swallow it, but after the first taste I would soon be lapping up all the stringy custard I could before whomever I was sharing it with could steal more.