I hope everyone had a magical holiday season. All of the gift swapping reminded me of the weirdest gift I ever gave -- a durian fruit. This aggressive, angry-looking Asian fruit smells like the inside of a dirty diaper. I gave it to my older brother.
Four years ago, I had the luxury of being a senior in college with nothing to do on winter break but spend three weeks raiding the solar-powered refrigerator at my mom's farm in Pahoa, a crunchy little town on the Big Island of Hawaii.
As a sensitive, thoughtful twenty-something, I had shown up without a gift for my brother. He lives in Honolulu, and I would be seeing him for a few days near the end of my trip. Somehow, I got it into my head to buy him a durian, smuggle it on my inter-island flight, and present it to him when he scooped me up from the airport.
A foodie with a taste for the bizarre, my brother once tried to bully me into drinking vodka with a fermented snake coiled around the bottom of the bottle, fangs bared.
“It's the venom that gets you so messed up when you drink it!” Um, no thanks.
My brother had been raving about the durian for a while now. I had never had one, but he said it was much easier to find, and much less expensive, on the Big Island than in Honolulu -- thus implanting my gift idea in my brain. He described its rich, creamy texture and unique flavor to be like "a mix between cream cheese and garlic."
I was skeptical. Just because two things are great on their own doesn't mean they will be great together. Like Sriracha and lube, or me and that ex who ate spoonfuls of straight mayonnaise. Or garlic and fruit. While “cream cheese and garlic” sounds like something I would love on a bagel, it isn't quite what I have in mind when I bite into a piece of fruit. He also told me it smells like garbage.
Garlic and garbage aside, I love my brother, and so I set out on a quest for durian. It took me to the exotic fruit stand at the local farmer's market. While the patchouli-scented dude running the stand didn't have any durian on him, he assured me he could get me some.
During my search for durian, here is what I learned:
- The durian has kind of a skanky reputation. I don't buy into the whole aphrodisiac thing, but durian devotees swear the fruit is a one way ticket to DTF-dom. This is probably why my brother loves it so much, which I am not going to think about too hard.
- According to island-fruit-dude -- whose over-exaggerated island accent made me suspect he was actually probably from the mid west -- the fruit has extremely arousing side effects, including a sort of warm, tingly LSD-esque body high.
- Durian is a stimulant, like coffee, and has a high raw fat content, much like an avocado, which explains the “cream cheese” flavor my brother mentioned.
- Not only is the fruit supposedly an aphrodisiac, but durian lovers swear by its addictive quality as well. Like your Thanksgiving turkey, it contains tryptophan, an amino acid which raises levels of serotonin, temporarily easing anxiety and providing the alleged "hot body high" that supposedly occurs when you eat it. Like crack. Fruit crack?
- It contains vitamins B, C, and E, and has a good amount of iron. So if you can get over the stench, it's pretty good for you.
- In Thailand, it's actually illegal to bring the fruit onto any public transportation because of its smell. And in Malaysia, it's illegal to eat durian in public, probably for fear of making everyone around you burst into spontaneous fits of vomit.
When I arrived to pick up my score from the market, my fruit-guy was hiding an 8-pound durian under a table, in a box covered with a blanket, attempting to hide it from haggling durian sharks who he claimed could smell it from half a mile away.
The green fruit was the size of a large volleyball and oval in shape, with treacherous looking spikes jutting out on all sides. Gone was fruit-guy's lingering patchouli odor. Instead, all I could smell was durian: earthy, rank and absolutely gag inducing. It smelled like someone had been following around a bull mastiff with diarrhea for three days and storing the dog's poop in dirty socks. I couldn't fathom how this fruit could possibly make people want to sex each other, or EAT it for that matter.
I put the foul fruit into my bag, paid the vendor (durian costs 6 to 10 dollars per pound!) and continued to walk around the market. As I fingered some earrings at a jewelry stand, I overheard two young women talking about how they knew someone must be selling durian, because they could smell it.
I struck up a conversation with them, and unearthed my hot poop fruit treasure-filled bag. One of the woman had lived for a while on Maui in a town where the durian are grown, and claimed that during durian season, locals eat tons of the stuff and everyone has what she described as “crazy stinky sex,” which sounded to me like TLC's alternative 1994 album title.
I imagined weird Manson-family types tripping out on durian and participating in large smelly orgies that include rubbing fruit on each other and making weird primal noises that echo throughout the jungle, harmonizing into one large symphony of fuck. Or something.
To prep for travel, I wrapped the durian in an old T-shirt, covered it in bubble wrap and duct tape, and stuck it into my most beloved piece of luggage, an old vinyl duffel bag with a map printed on it. The durian stunk right through the layers of plastic, and as I went through customs, the man running my bag through the X-ray stink-eyed me so hard I was slightly ashamed of myself.
Once on the plane, I hoped that everyone would attribute the foul stench to the handful of babies on board.
My brother picked me up from the airport. When I got in the car he took a big long inhale, nostrils flared, and said, “Smells good in here.” True to the word of the market man, a durian lover can smell 'em right away. Anyone else probably would have assumed I had shit stuck to my shoes and forced me back out of the car.
Unfortunately (fortunately), my brother told me the fruit was not completely ripe and so I didn't get to try it before my flight back to the mainland. In all honesty, I suspect my brother didn't want to share his filthy fruit with me, and that was fine, because after toting around the putrid thing all day, the last thing I wanted to do was eat it.
Edibles aside, my precious map bag that I used to smuggle my cargo stunk of fruit for the next three weeks, despite the fact I turned it inside out and washed it first with vinegar, and then with bleach.
Have you ever had a durian? Did it make you want to take off all your clothes? Does anyone actually believe in aphrodisiacs?
For more stories from Zoe that usually do NOT include traveling with fruit that smells rancid, follow her on Twitter @SexyTofuBlog.