What’s That Smell?


* This posting has been updated. Notes are at the end *

My partner Adam has always been such an accommodating soul. He didn’t utter a peep when a catering company trekked through our home for 3 days for a photo shoot. He doesn’t complain when he becomes my unofficial recipe tester sans payment, and he graciously accompanies me on food journeys from our neighborhood all the way to South America, never once complaining or fussing about the things I put him through. He even skinned a cow’s head and removed the eyes because I just couldn’t do it.

I’ve oftened wondered when the breaking point would arrive, when he’d say “Ok Matt, enough is enough”,  forcing me to silently acquiesce and put down the knife/pen/computer mouse and give in.

Today, it happened. And I can’t believe it was over a piece of fruit.

Bye bye, Durian.

My bright ideas and desire to taste as much as humanly possible led me to my local Asian market to stock up on this large, powerfully pungent fruit. Anthony Bordain seemed to enjoy it on his recent television program, and one of my best friends from Indonesia swore I’d find it just as pleasurable as she did.

“Oh yes, it smells a little bit, but I know you’ll love it. You eat some pretty far out stuff.”

I guess I can officially put down Durian as one of the things I tried but just couldn’t get into it. And believe me, I tried. Durian, a large, spikey fruit, is native to Southeast Asia and is tough on the outside with a creamy, white soft flesh inside. It’s not the creamy, custard like texture of the flesh that got to me, and the fruit’s flavor notes weren’t bad either. The fruit’s demise seemed to be its smell, a combination of sour and sweet and rotten and oniony.  I now know the reason durian is banned in many public places, and I can’t say I’d disagree with them.

I don’t dare malign the food of another culture, after all, my people enjoy some pretty far out foods. But to say that the Durian smells like death warmed over, a combination of sweet and sulfuric compounds that have been put into a blender and left to age in a city sewer in August would be an understatement.

Call me uninitiated, a foreigner, whatever. I’ll gladly accept it when it comes to the pleasures of Durian. I tried to like it, I really did. However, Adam wasn’t as accepting.


“This cannot live here,” he said, referring to our kitchen. “You’ve got to get rid of this. This has got to go. Now.”

And with that, I took one last bite in an attempt to convince myself that I could love it as if I grew up with it.  And you know what? I failed. I couldn’t do it.

What are your thoughts on Durian?

**update** I want Anantya and Rosa to know that I apologize.

Whoa. I was totally and unnecessarily harsh on the fragrance of Durian. If there’s a food that warrants such reactions from people I like who truly love it then I can’t so easily dismiss it.  And I am going to give it another try. Very soon. After all, I am a person who loves tripe, and if you’ve ever prepared that at home, well, it has a smell all its own. Maybe I just need to ease into it. Slowly.  VERY S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Did I say S-L-O-W-L-Y ?

Will you forgive me? :)


  1. anantya says


    I totally adore durian. Esp the slightly alcoholic-smelling bittersweet variety. there’s just sooo many kinds of durian – the sweet, the watery, the dry, the slightly fibrous ones (hate those), the yellow, the white. and then there’s my favourite bittersweet one.

    My entire family, relatives included – everyone loves it. except ONE uncle, who goes for walks anywhere outside the house for hours till the smells wear off.

    :( i’m so sad that you don’t like it. and to compare it to death and something that aged in an underground sewer. that’s so harsh. *heartbreak*

  2. says

    I love your post about durian and your sentence about it smelling “like death warmed over…”!!!

    Well, I tasted durian and I’m quite acquainted to it’s smell since that’s the first thing that me nosebuds get to catch when I enter my favorite Asian supermarket. I could not say that it disgusts me nor that I love it, because I only tasted it a few times in the past when I was not as open or adventurous food-wise. But, I can’t say that it left a negative or positive mark on me… I would have to try it again. Let’s put it so, it doesn’t put me off, but I don’t dream about it either!

    I can understand those who love the fruit as much as those who loathe it ;-)))!!!!

  3. gerald says

    gosh! matt! I admire your courage for daring to try and fall in love with durains. Do you know that they are labeled as the King of Fruits here in South East Asia?

    I totally love them and if any of you guys manage to make trip here to Singapore, remember to drop me a line and I’ll show you the wide varieties of Durians we have on sale here!

    Matt: here’s something fun, the best durain are called D24, well known for its thick, sweet flesh! You’ll love it!

  4. says

    whoa! controversy!
    matt, you are the undisputed champion of all foods; there are foods that i won’t go near even having never eaten them, just based on myth & legend… but you, matt… you make it your quest in life to experience everything you can get to your palate, and to learn to like it even if you don’t at first.
    you’re my culinary hero.

    ***melissa’s personal opinion***
    if you try it again, and you don’t like it – that’s okay! you’ve given it all you can give, and food is like people: (go with me on this one) almost verybody that meets you is going to just LOVE LOVE LOVE you. there will, however, be the odd weirdo that, although they seem cool and like someone you’d like to get to know, just doesn’t like you for one reason or another. you can send them cards and flowers and try to win them over, but it might not work.

    it’s not you, it’s them. but that’s okay!

    i applaud your courage & willingness to broaden your horizons! (stinky fruit or not!)

  5. says

    p.s. i gotta tell ya, i am STILL laughing! this post was brilliantly descriptive! i can almost taste the durain… thank goodness it’s “almost”. beautifully written!!!

  6. says

    Don’t worry, I didn’t take offense since I can understand your feelings regarding this strange fruit! And your post was so funny, I loved it (especially your description of it’s smell which made me LAUGH)…

    I already don’t know whether I like it or not, so don’t feel bad if you don’t. That’s your own taste; everybody’s free not to like something they tasted. You had the courage to do so and that’s very positive to see people like you who want to have new culinary experiences…

    Your posts are great and I enjoy them, so keep up with the good work and feel free to express you thoughts without any kind of censorship!!!

  7. says

    Despite the entertaining and elaborate description of the “aroma” I have to offer one thing: it looks nasty.

  8. says

    I’m marking this day on the calendar! Matt DOESN’T bite! I never thought I’d see the day…

    You are actually a culinary hero because I can read about epicurian delights that I’d never have the guts to try (garden snails anyone?)

    I love your site and your adventuresome spirit!! I await new posts with great anticipation.

    I am alone in having NEVER heard of a durian fruit???

  9. says

    A friend of my brother’s is from Singapore and during his service in the national army spent time as a tank commander. One day while out on an exercise they came across a Durian tree, used the tank to knock it down and went to town on the fruit. The smell, unfortunately, gave them away immediately upon returning to base and all were punished. I believe he said it was worth it though!

  10. says

    You are not alone on that taste thing. I had durian several times while I lived in Asia and it was VILE! I did some research on ugly fruits for work and durians actually come in several tastes/varieties. The one I tried had a flavor similar to rotting meat mixed with burnt caramel and smelled worse- I still cringe when I remember it! Your sweetie is a total saint 😉

  11. says

    You definitely need to give it another shot and get a good specimen (the bittersweet one is definitely a good one to start with) this time. The thing with durians is that vile, rotting smell will mysteriously turn to ambrosia between your last try and the next one and when that happens, everytime you smell durian your mouth will automatically salivate 😀

  12. says

    This is such a fascinating post that I’ve come back to re-read it and check the comments. I agree that the photo looks hideous but now, I am somewhat compelled to taste this fruit.

  13. says

    Ever since my grandmother returned from Singapore and told me about the fruit “…that smells like the gas from a thousand asses” I was never especially anxious to try a durian. Understandably.

    But then I had one, a fresh one (most in the US have been frozen for transport) and rather liked it. It tastes like an overripe coconut to me. Some Chinese friends showed me how to boil and eat the seeds too.

    So if I came to making a choice between skinning a cow head, and smelling the gas of…well, I won’t repeat it…I would take the durian.

  14. says

    As someone who grew up in a household where my sister and mother enjoyed Durian to the displeasure of the rest of the family, I must say the foul stench that emanates from these Stegasaurus testicles warrants all the scorn and disgust that is heaped upon this fruit. And then some.

  15. says

    Hi Matt,
    You should take pride in the fact that you even tried it. I’ve taken many friends from out of town to our local durian store, and most couldn’t even put it in their mouths –not even so that they could declare that they hated it. CH abhors it too, so I have been forbidden from making durian ice cream in my machine. But given your sweet determination to try it again, I recommend that you save that adventure for when you’re in our part of the world and can savor a truly fresh specimen.

    One of my favorite (and CH’s detested) memories is of eating durian fresh off the tree on a plantation in Penang. The flesh was still warm from the heat of the sun (I can imagine how disgusting this might sound to some people).

  16. says

    Matt… you don’t need to apologise for voicing your first impressions about anything on your blog, because ummm… its your blog!

    Plus I think you treated the fruit kindly. There is a good reason why many hotels around Asia ban their guests from keeping durian in their rooms. I camr across many signs in Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lnaka featuring a durian with a big red cross infront of it. So please don’t feel bad…

  17. says

    Durian I have not tried yet, but I will some day. I was always leery of trying it in the US, because I wasn’t sure how well it would taste after being transported so far.

    But considering I like to eat all sorts of vegetables, fruits and other foods that other folks find unnerving, nasty or stinky, I am not too worried. Even if I don’t end up liking durian, I want to give it a shot.

    Matt–I think you should give it one more shot too–and don’t worry about apologizing–it is your blog, and your experience. You are just telling your truth which is what we come here to read!

  18. DEe says

    Hahhahha… Durians are just one of those things.. last week my family bought some fantastic ones. I ate durian three days in a row, twice a day and i still did not have enough. Today when i pass by the durian stall i need to close my eyes coz its soooo tempting. (For those not in the know, durian is extremely ‘heaty’, and too much will mean a sore throat and general unwellness for several days) There should be no sour smell though.. bitter, sulphuric, pungent, but definitely no sour.. and looking at the picture of your durian… it probably was not so fresh. Bad durian is disgusting. But when fresh, its ambrosia. I’ve seen the durians in the US. Wouldn’t touch those with a barge pole.. nuh uh..

  19. says

    I’m not a huge fan of durian, but living here in Thailand, it’s hard to avoid. You might want to try durian that is still pretty solid and somewhat less “fragrant” (the one in the pic is cleary very ripe!). And I’m certain anybody given the chance would like durian chips, which, when served with copious sea salt, are better than the best potato chips ever, and the odd-sounding but delicious, durian ice cream! Don’t give up yet–there’s still hope!

  20. Marina says

    Matt, I’m sure you have your own devices for trying to like things you don’t really like. I started out with durian ice cream. Not confident in my liking of the real thing, I stuck to that for quite a while. Eventually the flavor became familiar enough, I ventured to buy a small plastic box of actual frozen durian. I ate it really cold, just to make sure it didn’t overtake me. After several of those, I finally graduated to the real thing and now I love it. Even the stink! It’s special enough to keep trying, I promise. You’ll feel proud of yourself when you get there.

  21. says

    Ugghh! Durians!

    I cannot imagine how anyone can bear that pungent, repulsive smell. My family loves durians, and whenever they bring some back home, the house stinks for a couple of days. Even the car used to transport the durians back home stinks after that. Keeping it in an air-tight container doesn’t work either.

    Then again, if you manage to overcome the putrid fumes, you might just enjoy the sweet flesh. Personally, I think it isn’t worth it…

  22. says

    yeah dude, you don’t need to apologise for disliking durian. durian is SUPPOSED to divide audiences. if you don’t love it, you probably ought to be hating it. there’s no middle ground with it, as i’m sure you secretly know!

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