Saturday, February 6, 2010


Anyone who visits Indonesia for a reasonable length of time will undoubtedly encounter durian. Anyone who encounters durian will have a strong opinion about it. In my experience, people feel one of two ways about durian: they love it or they hate seems that no one is indifferent to this unique fruit. Durian is a fruit indigenous to Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesians call it the "King of Fruits". As shown below it is brown, sharply-spiked, and oblong. Durian can grow quite large--I've seen some twice the size of a human head. The outside of durian is hard and breaks apart into segments that contain the seeds and flesh of the fruit. The first thing thing you notice when encountering durian is the smell. I have no words to adequately describe this distinctly foul aroma. Richard Sterling wrote, "its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia". He is not exaggerating. The smell is potent and far-reaching both in space and time. Everyone knows that someone ate durian for hours afterwards because the smell clings both to their breath and their hands. According to Indonesians I've spoken to, the only cure for this is to wash your hands in water poured in the skin of the durian...I don't know if it works. Most hotel rooms that I've stayed in here have signs clearly outlining hefty fines for bringing durian into the building. Believe me, the hotel staff will know if you try to sneak it in.
Durian is something of a delicacy here. Nearly everything comes in durian flavor--ice cream, candies, lollipops...even condoms. Surprisingly, durian is quite expensive. For a small fruit sold on the street, you would expect to pay around 1500 RP or $1.50 US. For a larger durian the cost could be upwards of 100,000 RP or $10 US. Compared to my 5 mangoes for 50 cents, that is very expensive and clearly outside the average person's price range. Therefore, durian becomes a special treat.
I've been skillfully avoiding durian since the day I arrived. The smell was enough to put me off, but I probably would have been adventurous if the cost wasn't so ridiculous compared to fruits that I knew I liked. Today, however, my luck changed. At a meeting this morning the teachers excitedly announced that a visitor from Jakarta had yesterday given the school office several durians. Great, I thought. Before I knew it, everyone was crowding around to see me have my first taste of their revered local fruit. I knew this was not going to go well; but I gathered all of my courage, held my breath, and took the smallest piece of fruit that I could. I wish that I had a picture of my face at the moment of my first taste. The texture was surprisingly creamy and pleasant. The taste was anything but pleasant. I am incapable of capturing it for you in words. The closest I can come is that it tasted like a moldy, rotting onion mixed with something vaguely meat-like. They made me try it twice. Immediately, my stomach started churning. I gulped down a whole cup of sweet tea and a glass of water. Even now, hours later, I can faintly taste the durian on the roof of my mouth. The "King of Fruits" is not my friend. Lesson learned: stick to the cheap, delicious local fruits like mangoes and mangosteen. It's always an adventure!

My counterpart, Ibu Rina, loves durian. It is her favorite fruit. She was incredibly excited to have some free durian today...and probably more excited that I didn't like it and there was, therefore, more for her to enjoy!


  1. I think I'll stick to mangoes when I visit... Hopefully there will be no donations of free durain while we're on the island!
    Mum x0x0

  2. Hahaha...great post! I haven't tried durian yet but I have seen the durian flavored condoms here! Too funny.