07 September 2008

Fruit that requires a screw driver

OKC -- A woman at a Vietnamese restaurant near my house gave the most convincing clue that the durian is an evil fruit that should not be eaten: "It's got spikes all over it, like, warning you to stay away," she said, before comparing the fruit's taste to vomit.

I first heard about the southeast Asian durain fruit at a dinner party, where a new friend and his wife (both white people from Ohio) said that the durain was the most delicious thing on earth. They said it was sweet, but not too sweet, and had the consistency of custard. Just be sure you crack it open on the porch, or outside your home, they said, because the fruit smells like a combo of rotten eggs and Fat Albert farts. They assured me that's a smell one can overcome, and that I would be hooked after one try.

Clearly these people have not taken human anatomy. Your nose is tied straight up with taste in your brain. And my nose is freaking huge.

My friend Jesse and I walked to Super Cao Nguyen, an Asian grocery store, on Saturday afternoon to buy a durian and try it out for ourselves. The fruit is sold out of a freezer, looks like an angry, rounded pineapple, and is pretty expensive. We picked the smallest one possible, and it weighed about 5 pounds and cost like $9. I didn't have any money in my wallet (convenient right?), so Jesse paid for it and carried it home. The durian is so spikey that, even when held in two plastic bags, it still stabbed him in the leg and litterally made him bleed. Ouch.

We got the fruit to my front porch and realized we didn't have much of a game plan for cracking it's spikey, wood-hard exterior. Here's a progression of tools used:

1. The knife: We used a small, sharp knife to stab at the fruit. It wasn't cerrated, but we still managed to saw across one side. We tried to pull it open, and just got stabbed in the palms. The fruit wouldn't budge.

2. The garden gloves: Used garden gloves to continue trying to pull the fruit apart. Not strong enough.

3. The stairs: Jesse picked the durain up and started banging it against the concrete stairs that lead up to my porch. "What are you doing?" I said. "Haven't you ever seen an otter?" Me: (Um, yes, in the Chicago Aquarium...) "Um, yes." Jesse: "They do this with mollusks, they put their little hands on the mollusk and then bang them into rocks." He continues banging, but all he does is get rid of a few spikes.

4. Screw drivers: Finally, we used two large screwdrivers to pry the fruit apart along the slit made in step one.

Immediately after the fruit opened, a stench filled the air. It was pretty sulfuric, like rotten eggs, but had a hint of otherworldlyness that for some reason reminded me of that scene in Gremlins when they all start hatching in the attic. Not that I have smellivision, I just imagine that's what it smells like.

As for the taste, I think Jesse was most accurate when he said it tasted like soggy, moldy onions. Whatever it was, it was sick, and I kept burping it up for at least 5 hours. After several washes, its smell still stuck to my hands. (It was unclear which kitchen utensils, if any, would be able to dig into the pockets of fruit beneath the spikes ... I didn't have a metal spork on hand, but maybe that would work).

Moral of story: trying new foods can be an adventure, but make sure you know what tools are required, and have a chaser and/or antacid ready.