November 3rd, 2010
02:00 PM ET
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I was told I’d either love it or hate it. The critics warned, "It smells terrible," ominously adding my body heat would "instantly rise." Some Malaysians praised it. "It’s the King of Fruits."

It’s called the Durian - deep green, imperfectly round and extremely prickly. "Do it." "Don’t." I was torn.

I took the plunge in the packed Jalan Alor street in the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpar. I spotted the Wong Kee Quality Durian stand that has been there for about twenty years. Mr. Beaio’s swift machete strokes delivered a fleshy, creamy pulp. It wasn’t that bad - somewhere between crème brulee and blue cheese. I’m told it’s an acquired taste.

Warning: Breath gets bad. Fast.

I spotted something more familiar in the open-air street food area, known here as a hawker’s center: chicken and beef Satay. Rudi, running the five-year old family food stand, told me many locals and tourists come by each night. It was pretty happening by 7pm.

I nibbled a few sticks of meat loaded with spicy peanut sauce and wandered down the street. It felt like I was in the middle of a hot kitchen. I admired the char kuey teow (fried flat rice noodles), the nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk), Fish on ice and roti canai (flat bread) cut and fried expertly. It was cheap, very cheap compared to Western standards.

Steam and smoke wafted from the grilled fish and pan-fried noodles. It smelled delicious but forced the occasional coughing fit because the smoke was so sharp. Music, punctuated with the loud clunking of old silver fans, cut through the humid air, and mingled with loud chatter of hungry guests huddled around red plastic chairs and tables.

I was struck how the food here really reflects the diverse culture of Malaysia, influenced by Malay, Indian and Chinese cooking culture. They have two things in common here, as one busy cook told me, "chilis and garlic."

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soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Nadzri

    I don't understand why everytime a foreigner who the first time tried durian and always hated it. Durian taste wonderful. FYI, durian has so many different types. To me, the best one must be the one with yellows colored flesh with small seed inside. It's very creamy, sweet, and taste fantastic. The smell is good and doesn't bother me at all.

    March 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  2. Cathy Lee

    Durian is awesome! Do not criticize if you haven't tasted the fruit!
    Even though it has smell of hell but it tastes really good.

    November 5, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  3. BaliBound

    I just came back from Bali. (I missed the earthquake by a day!!) I licked a piece of Durian fruit. It is an aquired taste for sure. I was not a fan. I accidently bought Durian candy and tortured my co-workers with it when I got back. I would rather prefer a white or a yellow mango any day(off a street vendor in Bali).

    November 4, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  4. anne

    I am a Malaysian. I LOVE the durian. I am gald the writer did not write anything bad about my country and my TOWN! Too much durian will make you a bit ill...

    November 4, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  5. Georgieporgie

    There's a reason why the locals say durian has the "smell of he!! and the taste of heaven!" I spent a wonderful summer in Quantan, Malaysia, and although I am a very picky eater, I finally agreed to try durian. It is truly a wonderful fruit (if you can figure out how to get into one) and once you've tried it you can't get enough. If you ever come to Atlanta, on Buford Hwy. there is a place called Pho #1 and you can get a durian milkshake made with real durian fruit!!! It's wonderful!

    November 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  6. Blessed Geek

    The secret to enjoying durian is refrigerating or putting it in the freezer till 45F. When eaten below 50F, you can taste the sweetness but avoid smelling the pain. You could also mix it into a tub of Chunky Monkey Haagen Jerries and then refreeze the ice-cream for later consumption.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  7. Extreme Omnivore

    There seems to be many different accounts of what durian tastes like, I wonder if it has something to do with elemental concentrations in the soil where the tree is grown. Could explain it, different concentrations of select elements can influence the taste of certain fruits and vegetables, such as sulfur in onions.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  8. Durian2Go

    I LOVE durian. Don't mind the smell and it tastes like custard. YUMM!! LOVE it!! It's very expensive in the US. They sell by the pound skin and all.

    November 4, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  9. Neelie

    Durian was gross the first three times I had it, but if you push through the gross, the 4th time it was AMAZING. Don't know why, I guess I had finally acquired the taste for it. Persevere and it will work its magic (eventually).

    November 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  10. Death by Durian

    Frozen durian is great! Doesn't smell as bad but if you get a deep yellow colored piece (indicating that it came from a ripe fruit), it tastes like creamy egg custard... :D

    November 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  11. veg head

    I had a frozen Durian shake – it was amazing – until I left half of it in my car (in the summer) – that's a smell that's hard to get rid of!!!

    November 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  12. Al

    I had imported durian so I don't know if that makes a difference but I really enjoyed it. I also have a poor sense of smell so I was totally oblivious to any foul odors.

    November 4, 2010 at 9:10 am | Reply
  13. Bill

    I purchased a frozen durian a few months back and some friends and I had a tasting. I know frozen is not as good, but I am in Maine. I actually enjoyed it, not saying I will seek it out frequently, but I would eat it if it were available. It tasted like Old Onions/Garlic and was very creamy and had a very pleasant texture.

    November 3, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Reply
  14. Antonio

    Durian: either like or hate. No middle ground. I love it. Mos to f the people has problem with the texture.

    November 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  15. JuanitaBeasley

    Yummy!

    November 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  16. CC

    stinky fruit and street food- boy say that five times fast...

    November 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  17. Evil Grin

    Hey it moved.

    November 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  18. deathbydonuts

    They have great taco carts in LA

    November 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  19. AlfredoG

    I seek out durian in its various forms when I can–the fruit itself (which I have even found on the streets of New York City, as well as in Southeast Asia), durian candy, durian ice cream, even durian gum. Due to the reasonably offensive smell of the fresh fruit, I would never keep fresh or frozen durian in the house. It used to be banned on Malaysia Air and some others flying into and out of Kuala Lumpur. Creme brulee is far off in terms of taste description. It is creamy in the true sense of taste and texture, but to me, it has a slight kerosene aftertaste, which is not offensive and contributes to the overall taste complexity. It may be the fruit of kings but it has killed many people walking under falling fruit. Ana Mendara in San Francisco (Don Johnson's place) sometimes has durian ice cream, which is very much a treat.

    November 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Jesse

      Perhaps it's called the fruit of kings, because it's crowned a few people.

      November 4, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  20. Swapna

    I had durian for the first time in Malaysia and it took all my self control to not throw up right then and there. The smell is far, faaaaar worse than the taste. I've been told that if you hold your nose while eating it, it goes down a little easier. It is stinky enough that they ban people from bringing it on all public transportation in Singapore.

    November 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Jesse

      And banned from some hotels as well.

      November 4, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  21. Cherie

    Durian smells like something rotting. But if you can stand the smell, and have good tastebuds to differentiate different flavors, in an open-minded way...well, a good durian can taste pretty good. It's creamy pulp and silky sweetness make it one of the most best tasting fruits in asia imo. But then again, I'm a major foodie. I love trying out new things, from all over the world (except the more exotic animals and bugs).

    November 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • SmittyGal

      I have to agree, Cherie. I tried durian from Mindanao when I was in the Philippines and thought was rather good . The smell is quite unusual at first, a bit oniony, imo, but I was very glad I tried it!

      November 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      I tried durian for the first time in Hawaii. Did not enjoy it much, but nothing horrible. Since then, every time I tasted it I liked it more. Last time I paired it with dark strong IPA and it was the heavenlike experience.

      November 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  22. Tyler

    Been to Tailand where the durian is fairly popular. It smells pretty bad but not revolting, and the taste is pretty similar to the smell. As far as it tasting like Creme Brulee... Not a chance! I was able to swallow it, but I won't be eating it again any time soon.

    In general though, street food is great in SE asia. You just need to accept the fact that the conditions are quite unsanitary (touching the food with visably dirty hands, using the same cooking utensiles for raw and cooked poultry, etc).

    November 3, 2010 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Truth

      Agreed! When visiting anywhere in Asia, pack the Immodium. You will thank yourself.

      November 3, 2010 at 11:42 am | Reply
      • Christian

        Not True. I have been living in Singapore for over 2 years and frequent lots of different countries and as long as you are mindful of drinking the water in some countries (stick to bottled stuff) there are no major problems over here.

        As for Durian. You either love it or hate it. I myself have tried every option of Durian available (fruit,pancakes,ice cream,puffs,etc.) and I just cant learn to enjoy it.

        November 4, 2010 at 5:43 am | Reply
  23. Truth

    Never been to Malaysia, but in Japan, China and Vietnam, some of the best meals I have ever had were on the street. Also great for people watching.

    November 3, 2010 at 11:18 am | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      You food voyeur.

      November 3, 2010 at 11:22 am | Reply

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