My fridge stinks. Or at least it did, weeks ago when I first decided to do this post, and decided I really felt like opening with that line, even if it’s no longer exactly applicable.
But yes, it stank, but in a way that became a little less offensive over time, in the same ways that at the beginning of durian season you can’t help crinkling your nose anytime a truck drives by laden with the spiky, unapproachable fruit; but after a week-or-so a stroll past the marketplace tabletops piled high with the beasts only leaves you salivating.
Or me, anyway. I know I’ve addressed durian before on one of my previous blogs, but the season has rolled around again and there was a period when we couldn’t go five minutes without coming upon a mountain of durian for sale; without one being pushed into our arms by a coworker; (and as a result) without the kitchen becoming permeated with its musty odor each time the refrigerator door was opened.
So I thought it was worth revisiting them, as well as two other popular Thai fruits that find themselves in season now and that have worked a very definite way into our hearts and stomachs. Durian is known around much of Asia as “the king of fruits,” for reasons I though initially dealt with health but which a friend who cultivates them has explained differently. He says simply that the trees can grow to enormous heights and the fruit ends up growing physically above all the other fruit, like a king overlooking his empire (okay that goofy bit of figurative language was mine, not his). Also, the flowers on the tree can have a bit of a crown-like look to them. That being said, they are quite healthy in that they have good cleansing properties and are full of good fats, not unlike avocados. (Though it’s funny to hear the Thais say that they can’t eat too much of it or else they’ll get fat.)
Of course, in the eloquent words of Bret Michaels, every rose has its thorn, or rather, every durian its spike. In areas where they’re grown in large numbers, the farmers cover the area between the trees with a net that’s high enough to walk under to prevent durian-related-death-by-head-pummeling. The spines and tough rind also make opening them a bit of a chore; whereas vendors often have protective leather gloves and proper cleavers, if they don’t get them started well enough for you, the customer, you might end up with a raw knuckle or two as you try to work your way in there. They also have internal heating properties, so it’s recommended to not eat them at the hottest time of day or with alcohol (well… I don’t know if there’s actually a correlation there, but we’ve heard numerous accounts of them not being advisable to eat with alcohol. At what risk, I’m not sure.). And then there is that whole smell factor to get past (though I still claim when they’re perfectly ripe there’s almost no smell at all), and the texture (“slimy”s a word no one really likes associated with their food but with many durian it fits the bill). Basically, I always tell people it took me three tries before being able to eat and actually enjoy a durian, but now I’m positively, literally, obsessed with them, no phobias about it. (Family joke! Did I mention my family’s in town, or rather Bangkok, or rather four fifths of my family? Hooray!)
Just one more thing about durian. These smaller, rounder durian seen in all my photos today are known as “durian baan” or “home durian.” You’ll also often see enormous durian with big bulbous protrusions and these are called “mong tong” (or something like that). The durian connoisseurs we’ve come across all prefer the durian baan hands down, as the mong tong come from grafted trees, which have created somewhat of a monoculture in certain areas, and also (according to them) just don’t taste as nice. My palate’s not that strongly refined but I will say that durian baan are often around 20 baht per kilo, as opposed to a standard 60-70 for mong tong. And since mong tong are such bigger fruit you might end up dropping a good 120 baht on one durian!
Every king needs his queen and that applies in the fruit kingdom as well. And in the fruit kingdom, mangosteen is queen. Again, I’m not certain of the qualifications that have named her such, but I do know it’s recommended to eat durian and mangosteen together because the cooling properties of mangosteen can counter the durian’s warming abilities. Anyway, people are far less hesitant to sink their teeth into a mangosteen than durian, though mangosteen also have a bit of an uninviting exterior. Once you crack open the hard, deep purple shell (which can be used as a natural insecticide. Bonus! [Haha, that’s for you, David.]) there’s a soft, white, sweet-ish, sour-ish, almost citrusy flesh that’s just oh-so-good. I’m actually stuffing my face with them between paragraphs right now. They’re in season in Thung Song right now and we get handed them by the bagful.
And finally, rambutan, another of Thailand’s “alien pod fruits” as one friend has termed them. They’re impossible to pronounce in Thai: ‘ngo’ — the vowel and consonant sounds are just not within my ability to master. (In Thai, durian is pronounced the same, and mangosteen is, ‘mankoot’.) They’re similar to lychees (but easier to open) and I can snack on them for hours!