For most of us, June signifies the start of summer. In Singapore and South East Asia, June is the start of Durian season. For some people, this is a time of gustatory delight. One person thought to send a durian care package to his home in Germany. The staff at the post office were not prepared.
Durian is a tropical fruit characterized by its creamy texture and pungent aroma. Pungent aroma is a polite way of saying it stinks to high heaven. The smell is like rotting onions with high notes of turpentine and raw sewage. Journalist M. Paramita Lin describes durian as “what would happen if a toddler invented a fruit made up of everything they like—from dinosaurs and farts to ice cream and pudding.”
Despite its smell the fruit is highly prized in South East Asia and is called the King of Fruits. Outside of Asia it is little known. Needless to say, the staffers at Schweinfurt, a town of 50,000 were alarmed by the smell emanating from the package; they called the police.
CNN reports that “six ambulances, five first-responder cars and two emergency vehicles attended the incident. Three different fire departments were also involved.” Twelve of the 60 workers required medical care for nausea; six of them were taken to the hospital.‘Stinky fruit wrecks havoc in German post office” – The Takeout, June 22, 2020
I can well imagine the panic and mayhem in the post office. Although I’ve lived through seven durian seasons in Singapore, I am not a fan. I remember my commute through an area known for its fresh produce. Every year, around this time the durian sellers would push aside the regular fruit and load up on durian imported from Malaysia.
As my bus approached the area, the smell of durian would build. I’d stop breathing through my nose and pant surreptitiously into my hand. When we stopped beside the durian stalls, the impact was almost palpable. A blanket of funk descended on, in and around the bus. Not breathing at all now, I’d mentally count the number of people alighting the bus. Hurry. Hurry. Get on board quickly so we can leave! Depending on how the wind blew, it’d be three or four stops later before I could finally take a full sweet breath of fresh air.
But I was the exception. Many of my colleagues loved durian. To them the scent was a precursor to gustatory delight. Like a Pavlovian reflex, their olfactory nerve center switched the malodorous smell into fragrant perfume. Over the course of seven years my friends tried to convert me. Try a tiny taste of fresh durian? Nope, size does not diminish the smell. Durian cream cake? No amount of whipped cream can mask it. Durian pancake? A breakfast from hell.
During my last year in Singapore, I made a trip to Malaysia for a week long workshop. There I met Vito, who learning of my durian predisposition, insisted on treating me to an authentic durian experience. We made our way to a durian shop specializing in fruit shipped directly from the farm. We sat in a rudimentary dining area surrounded by wall to wall durian. Surprisingly, it did not smell! Apparently, durian starts to smell only after the first twenty four hours of picking. Since most exports take at least twenty four hours to arrive, odorless durian is only possible in the heart of durian farm country.
Finally, I was able to taste the fruit. It was rich and creamy and luscious. It was like eating custard folded in with whipped cream. It was mildly sweet with a fruity after taste. It was nothing like anything I’d ever tasted before.
So am I a convert? Maybe not. Durian farms are hard to come by in Canada and even Express Post takes longer than twenty four hours. … as the staffers at Deustsche Post well know.
Toronto, Canada. June 2020