I haven’t talked about fruit for a while, so here’s an update on that front. First, we’ll talk about the more pleasant of the fruits today, longyen. These grow on trees and come into season in the late summer and fall. There are orchards of longyen out in the country with trees as far as you can see – a friend told me about going out to a student’s grandparents’ farm and being given a bag and told to pick as much as they wanted to take home. When they’re in season, they’re not only found in stores, but people have truckfuls of them – they just park on the side of the road somewhere, open up their truck, put up a sign, and start selling longyen.
The ‘shell’ is peeled off in little bits, as it’s usually a little hard, but the flesh inside is sweet and delicate and light. It doesn’t have a strong flavour, but it’s very refreshing in the late summer heat. There’s a pit in the middle which is tossed afterwards, making for a fair amount of effort for a little fruit. It’s worth it, though.
Durian is one of the most polemic fruits ever. Most people end up on the ‘hate it’ side of this debate. The durian, unlike the longyen, has a very strong taste and smell. Many people compare the smell to that of rotting flesh. It certainly is strong and has that same tang, but I wouldn’t say it smells like something dead. In fact, once I got used to it, it smelled to me like the spices used in turkey stuffing – rosemary, sage, marjoram, those kinds of smells. Like a spicy-sweet smell. It does expand to fill the space, however – when I bought some to try it out, we had to keep it in a bag in a plastic container so the smell didn’t fill the fridge and smack us in the face when we opened it. Even so, when I opened the container in the kitchen, Christine complained about it from the living room.
Biting into a durian is usually the limit for those who overcome the smell. It’s what turned me off the first time I tried it years ago in Thailand – I said then that if it had just been the smell or the texture, I could take it, but both at the same time was too much. The first bite was close, but after that it was almost a perverse kind of pleasure. It has a custard-like feeling to it, like pudding that has been sitting out and developed a skin on the top. It’s a bit like a mushy banana, but not quite the same. The taste is also kind of custard-like, though it’s hard to pull a taste out independently, with that smell wafting up the entire time. I felt both an enjoyable feeling and a repulsed feeling eating this – pleasure and putrid. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of both at the same time, having something in your mouth that is both sublime and that makes you feel like you might be sick. I ate most of one piece and that was about my limit.
I think I’d try durian again, but I don’t think I could make it a regular thing. First, I’d be kicked out of the house (there’s a reason that there’s a fine in Singapore for even bringing one on the bus), and second, it seems too much of everything for me to comfortably enjoy – too much smell, too much texture, too much taste. Still, I’m glad I gave it a second chance.