04 November 2008

Whew... what's that smell?!

I was forced into writing this post. When I started this blog I promised not to recount absolutely everything that is already put out there about Thailand. Tune into any 30 minute travel show featuring the country and you'll likely see an elephant tour and "the odd fruit known as Durian". 

Well, after a Durian experience to novel to be ignored... here I am, writing about "the odd fruit known as Durian".

For anyone unfamiliar with Durian, it is a fruit native to this region and is considered by many to be a delicacy. Even so, most everyone agrees that the smell of the fruit is not for the faint of heart (and many would say the same about the taste). In fact, the scent is so distinct, and potent, that many hotels outlaw its presence. The picture above is of the inside flesh of one piece of fruit.

Out for a morning of errand running, I came across a fruit stand that not only sold durian fruit, but sliced it and packaged it. Which, if you've seen the size of the fruit (giant pumpkin-like) and the number of spikes it has (a lot), cutting and packaging becomes a very big selling point. Up until now, I've tried Durian candy, Durian chips and Durian crackers--all of which had the durian taste greatly offset by sugar or other ingredients. But, since it is a delicacy of the region, I felt obligated to try the real deal. 

So, purchasing two small packages and putting one in my backpack and carrying one in a separate bag, I ascended the Skytrain platform to begin the journey home. Through triple sealed plastic containers (literally wrapped in about a yard of plastic wrap each), I already began to smell the infamous odor of durian. Waiting in Bangkok's heat, the smell encircled me and I began to wonder if others could smell it too. I didn't have to wait long to have my question answered. In broken English, a Skytrain guard approached me and said "Ma'am, you have durian?" After a nod and some brief conversation, I realized I had the choice to hand it over or attempt to find a cab that would allow my durian to travel (the guard told me that the second option was unlikely).

So, I handed over my bag and the package of durian was rather grandly escorted to the nearest trash can. The Skytrain pulled up and the smell of durian stayed with me. Ohhhhhh.... my back pack! Previously forgetting the second purchased package, I smiled now in realization that the family would still get to try durian (if I could make it past the other Skytrain personnel).

Arriving home, I opened the package. Whewwww! An odor so strong that I had to back up and catch my breath pounced out of the bag. Sending the back pack to the laundry, I proceeded to check out the durian. The smell was that of hot, stinky feet mixed with overly ripe fruit and a bit of a rotting meat that might have been left out in the sun for a bit. Forever now, my mind has catalogued "eau de durian".

The taste? If someone were to give me a piece in a blind taste test (and I could get past the smell), the texture would remind me of a runny french cheese. Cut into the durian and it oozes over your plate. And, once on the tongue, it produces a sickeningly sweet, fermented, rotten cheese type of taste--- a delicacy that I don't quite understand and don't plan to work on developing a taste for. 

Suffice it to say, I'm not missing the second package of durian deposited in the Skytrain station's garbage can.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 22:
Tom Kha Gai
Long before arriving in Bangkok, this was one of my favorite dishes to order when eating Thai food. Some recipes, intended to be served as an appetizer size, tend towards the salty. This version, intended to be eaten as a main meal with rice, provides a very eatable bowl of soup (or two!).

1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 lime leaves, folded*
1 piece of ginger, washed and sliced (about one inch long)
1 cup of mushrooms, cut in halves
2 tomatoes, diced
1-2 teaspoons chili paste
1 pound of chicken breasts, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons fish sauce
lime wedges, for garnish

In a large stock pot, add coconut milk, chili paste, fish sauce, lemon juice, ginger, lemon grass and lime leaves. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low (do not allow to boil). Add remaining ingredients and put a lid on the pot. Turn off heat and allow the chicken to poach in the soup. Once the chicken is fully cooked, warm the soup to desired serving temperature. Serve with lime wedges and rice. Allow each person to add rice and squeeze lime over their servings as desired.

*If you can't find the leaves in your local grocery, leave them out, but add 2 extra tablespoons of lime juice.

1 comment:

  1. I am enjoying re-reading your blog, now that I've been here for a while. Things make more sense now... I finally tried the Durian. Only Josh and I where brave enough to do so, the rest of my family chickened out. Suffice it to say it is not a fruit that I will be trying to get accustomed to. There are enough other wonderful tasting fruits that I can enjoy! I think it is something that you have grow up with to love...


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