Sunday, June 29, 2014

Durian Durian

All the photographs from Paris are still waiting to be blogged but they'll have to wait just a little bit longer. Tomorrow morning I've got the jury presentation for my final project paper and although I'm not nervous about it, I keep thinking about it, and can't concentrate on anything else. And I still have to throw some slides together for that part of the presentation. After that, I no doubt will wake up to the fact that I leave in two weeks and therefore need to get all of my things organized and folded back into suitcases, which is easier said than done, and I'll still be working at the pig farm on a regular basis, so I don't know how much time I'll feel like devoting to the blog before I get resettled - temporarily - in mid-July.

While I was in Paris I happened to wander past a large Asian market in the Belleville district that Sunday, and though I hadn't planned on buying anything, I did. I found a brand of wasabi peas that was SO much better than any others I've had; the wasabi was a light coating, not the thick shell you usually get, and the peas were crisper. I wish I'd saved the bag to get the brand, but on the other hand not even the label was in English (or French) so it probably wouldn't have helped. I bought some instant dashi mix that I've been cooking my rice in, and some black sesami mochi balls, and some jasmine tea for Florence's birthday present.

I would have bought more (seasoned seaweed paste! white miso! pickled radish and soy-braised sprats!) but I didn't want to carry kilos of groceries around the next day.

But I just had to buy the freeze-dried durian. Many years ago I took a fresh durian to Mom and John's house (in Packwood, Washington at the time) that I'd bought at Uwajimaya shortly after they opened up their first store in the Portland area. Unfortunately by the time I got there it wasn't all that fresh, and its signature rotten smell was overpowered by the actual rot. Not even the raccoons would eat it. So the next time I took some durian candy along, because I was still curious about the flavor of this famous fruit. After the olfactory assault they'd received from the fresh/rotten durian, Mom and John were dubious. "Oh, come on," I said. "It's candy!" I unwrapped one [crinkle crinkle] and popped it in my mouth ...

"Bleagh! (ptoo)"

... and spit it out immediately. "Here, let me try one," said Mom.

[crinkle crinkle] "Bleagh! (ptoo)"

"It can't be THAT bad," said John.

[crinkle crinkle] "Bleagh! (ptoo)"

I suggested they save the rest of the candy to hand out at Hallowe'en to children they didn't particularly like. The bag was probably tossed out, uneaten except for the three we tried, a year or two later when they moved back to southern Oregon.

Understandably cautious, I opened this box of Tasty Top freeze-dried durian and then cut open the foil pouch inside, ready to back away quickly and go running for a trash bag to wrap everything up in before tossing it away.

But there was no overwhelming reek, and when I took a cautious sniff of the light golden chunks inside, only a faint fragrance that reminded me of truffles and peaches and the way a thick layer of rose petals smells when it's been crushed underfoot. I nibbled one piece and felt the freeze-dried flesh turn to cream on my tongue, with a truffle-peach-rosepetal-umami-wow! flavor that was really quite addictive. Apparently something in the freeze-drying process removes or subdues the volatile compounds that attack the senses in the fresh fruit, leaving a gentle musky taste/smell I really liked. It's possible that the type of durian used for this product is one that isn't as stinky; apparently there are several varieties, some more overwhelming than others.

Durian production peaks in June and July and the markets in Singapore and Malaysia and Thailand are probably full of the spiky fruits right now. The Penang Durian Fair offers two months worth of odoriferous fun - maybe I'll get there some day. Like a lot of other tropical fruits, the durian is probably best eaten IN the tropics. I've never found a papaya sweeter than the ones I had in Hawai'i, and the clean clear taste of green coconut is never better than when it's been freshly cut under the tree it came off of. I have more traveling to do in Western Europe, but I'm starting to look east these days ...

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