When I found out we had the opportunity to spend some time in Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) recently, I got really excited, finally I’d be able to tick an experience off my Travel Bucket List! It wasn’t seeing wild orangutan or zip-lining over a coral reef (although both were pretty amazing), it was much more boring than that, eating Durian.
Well I shouldn’t really call the experience of eating durian boring because durian is no ordinary tropical fruit, it’s a fruit that elicits very strong almost visceral reactions in people that have tried it. Durian lovers will long for another taste, and haters will screw up their face in disgust. Just like coriander or Vegemite, you either love it or hate it, I was curious as to which side I would fall on, so it was time to take the challenge.
On my previous travels to Asia I’ve passed on opportunities to try durian, because to be honest I was a little bit afraid. I’d heard so many horror stories about how horrible it tasted, and I think that just scared me off. But I’d decided that life is too short to be afraid of eating fruit so I was adamant that we weren’t leaving Sabah till I’d had a proper try.
Turns out that Kota Kinabalu was the perfect place for my first durian experience as Borneo is one of the main growing regions for many species of durian. Conveniently, I just happened to be travelling during the durian season which falls from June to August.
It was pretty obvious that locals love their durian, it was durian season and there were stalls and vendors everywhere. People were selling them on the side of the road from back of trucks, at the market and at dedicated fruit cafes. Sabah is so well known for it’s abundance of fresh durian, and other tropical fruits, that fans travel there from all over Asia (and maybe the world) just to get he best fruit when it’s in season.
There is even a shop dedicated to durian flavoured foods, you can’t miss it, it’s the one with the giant durian on the awning.
So, how did I find my durian eating experience?
I actually ate it twice during our trip. The first time (shown in the video) was at the Handicraft Market in Kota Kinabalu, and the second was at the Mari Mari Cultural Village the day after.
- Durians are very prickly and quite heavy (about 1-2 kg). The spikes feel really sharp and when I said ‘ouch’ in the video, I actually got stabbed by one of the spikes. It didn’t break my skin but it still hurt.
- People describe the smell as either fragrant or stinky (depending what side of the fence you fall on). I didn’t find it offensive and to be honest couldn’t really smell it much at all. Maybe it’s because I have chronically blocked sinuses, but I could only detect a very slight whiff of rotting onion. It certainly wasn’t as bad as sewage, skunk spray or stale vomit, as some have described it.
- The flesh around the smooth seed is very soft, and was a little bit fibrous. The second durian I ate, which was apparently of much higher quality than the first, had very soft, smooth custard like flesh with a really creamy texture. I actually found it really nice.
- You’ll see in the video I keep pulling faces. These weren’t faces of disgust, more like me thinking and trying to describe the taste in words. The best I can describe it as is, slightly sweet onion or garlic, like when it’s been roasted but still with ‘bite’. It also had a slightly fermented taste with a hint of bitter almond. It has some heat, but is not spicy, and I found that it sort of tingled in my mouth. The flavour was very unusual an I would not describe it as either sweet or savoury.
- If I had to sum it up, durian tastes like roasted garlic pudding.
I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. It’s not a fruit I would go out of my way to seek, or crave to eat, but if I had the opportunity to eat it again, I would. In the video I said that I was not a fan, but I think it’s really an acquired taste. The second time I tried it I actually enjoyed it because the texture was so nice, so who knows, I may become a convert after all!
Durian is known as the ‘King of Fruits’, but all Kings must have a Queen, and in the fruit kingdom the ‘Queen of Fruits’ is the Mangosteen. In the spirit of my fruit eating adventures in Sabah, I also made a short video about mangosteen. SPOILER ALERT – Mangosteen is delicious!