Kicking up a stink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2010, 12:00am

The durian provokes extreme reactions - people either love it or hate it. Those who dislike the fruit absolutely loathe it - even the thought of eating it makes them want to throw up. Despite being a durian lover, I find it hard to blame them - the fruit's odour is so intense.

Well, durian-haters, you're going to have to live with the smell for a while now, because the fruit is in season. Wet-market vendors sell the large, spiky fruit whole (after you've chosen one, the vendor will cut along the 'seams' of the hard outer shell then take the fruit out), while the shelled, meaty lobes are sold in supermarkets.

The flavour of the fruit is mild compared to its scent (which has been described as anything from garlic-flavoured compost to baby vomit) - it's sweet and complex, sometimes with a faint petrol taste. The texture is creamier and richer than custard. Thai durians - the type commonly sold in Hong Kong - are much larger than the myriad cultivars found in Malaysia and Singapore.

Choosing the perfectly ripe fruit is best left to the vendor. It's easier to buy it out of the shell - I press on the lobe to ensure it yields enough but not too much. Durian, which has been called the 'king of fruits' is considered to be an aphrodisiac. In traditional Chinese medicine, the fruit is believed to heat up the body's organs but it is thought that drinking salted water out of a durian shell cools the body.

Freezing the fruit helps to mute the scent slightly. When slightly thawed, it's like eating ice cream. The fruit is used in many dishes, especially desserts. It's pureed then mixed with whipped cream to use as a filling in crepes and cakes or stirred together with milk and sugar to make the delicious Taiwanese shaved ice cream. One of my favourite Chinese desserts is the durian dofu fa at Auntie Sweet, in Tin Hau, where they flavour the bean-curd 'custard' (it doesn't contain eggs) with durian, then top each bowl with a large spoonful of the fresh fruit.