Aug. 4 2015 07:36 PM

The exotic fruit is stinky but scrumptious

A friendly waiter at Saigon Restaurant shows off the durian shake.
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

    "I smell propane."

    What my worried coworker doesn't know is that I've just opened a package of durian-flavored wafers and left them by his desk. It takes a few hours before I can find anyone in the office daring enough to try a bite of the various durian-flavored snacks I've brought in. After two of my more open-minded colleagues finally do brave a taste, they quickly suggest I move the treats to my own desk and tape up the package of wafers so the odor can't escape.

    Durian smells like turpentine, baby diarrhea, rotten fruit, dirty feet—the list of stenches the exotic fruit emanates goes on. But if you can get past the pungent odor, the taste is thrilling. My husband describes the flavor as garlic-banana-cream pudding. It's the most adequate account I've come across yet.

    Native to Southeast Asia, the massive, thorny fruit has a smell so notorious, it's been banned in hotels and public transit in Singapore and other countries in the region. I, too, was originally so put off by the smell that I refused to try a durian-flavored shake when my husband offered me a sip. That first date with durian was years ago, though, so I finally decided to give the poor, reeky, misunderstood fruit another go.

    My durian discovery quest started at Saigon Restaurant (4455 El Cajon Blvd.) in City Heights. When my husband ordered the durian shake, our waiter was flabbergasted.

    "Who told you about durian?" he asked, impressed at my bearded beau's Asian-insider request.

    One of our dining companions, a ballsy New Zealander, was the first after my husband to take a sip. She described it as "off watermelon" and "not bad." I swallowed the frosty mixture next and was surprised by my lack of gagging. Durian does taste a bit like garlic and even onion, two flavors I firmly believe to be the heart and soul of a recipe. The flavor is so strong it sticks around inside your mouth, dancing on your tongue for minutes—some might say hours—after you swallow.

    The secret to a durian shake for newbies like me, I've decided, is to order it with boba—tapioca pearls—and ask for ample whipped cream on top. Pro tip: Try to keep the straw filled with the shake mixture at all times so you're not sipping up the acrid fumes.

    I dug the durian shake, which meant it was time to go right to the source. I needed to rip into a fresh, thorny, full-sized fruit so I headed to 99 Ranch Market (7330 Claremont Mesa Blvd.) in Kearny Mesa. Even frozen, durian still stinks. I paid more than $15 for it and left it in my car as I drove around looking for other interesting durian options. I called Pho Convoy Noodle House (4647 Convoy St.) in Kearny Mesa and almost toppled over with excitement when I heard it had durian-flavored curry. When I got to the restaurant, though, they looked at me like I was nuts and said they only had a durian shake (I'm a half-deaf idiot and totally misunderstood the phone conversation).

    I sat in my car and called around looking for durian gelato or ice cream but didn't have much luck save for Flavaful Yogurt (6937 Linda Vista Road) in Linda Vista. The person who answered the phone was excited by my request and told me he'd make my durian smoothie so thick it'd taste like ice-cream.

    The Fruit Shop (4619 Convoy St.) in Kearny Mesa promised me an excellent durian smoothie, too, but I took a gamble instead and drove up to Lucky Seafood (9326 Mira Mesa Blvd.) in Mira Mesa where I was promised a durian pastry and other durian-flavored delights. I picked up the wafers, durian-adorned Thai coconut rolls and two pastries made fresh by Huy Ky Bakery (4568 University Ave.) in City Heights, which also makes a durian-flavored mooncake during the mooncake season, which runs from mid August through September.

    At this point, I realized I'd gone nose blind during the drive. When I got back in my car to head down to Huy Ky Bakery to check out their offerings in person, I was overwhelmed by the stench of the quickly thawing durian. I had to drive home as quickly as I could to get it out.

    The durian spent the night on our front porch. In the morning, we cracked it open, dug our spoons in and thoroughly enjoyed the somewhat slimy, garlicky flesh. I did have to put my foot down when my hubby said he wanted to put the uneaten portions in our refrigerator. Durian is good, but not good enough to let it stink up my entire fridge.

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