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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Capital's durian season invokes intense emotions

Capital's durian season invokes intense emotions

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090622_21b.jpg

Photo by:

Tracey Shelton

A durian vendor waits for customers in Phnom Penh.

YES, it is that time of the year when an extra

"aroma" will linger in the air in steamy Phnom Penh, when much drama

will unfold over choosing the right fruit: The fruit that can inspire

anything from throes of ecstasy to intense disgust takes centre stage.

How one likes one's durian is a very personal choice.

Coming

from Malaysia, we like the flesh on the soft side; hence the fruit is

only harvested after it drops. In contrast, Cambodians, who like the

durian flesh hard, pluck the fruit straight from the tree.

The taste can range from sweet to bitter, and some fruit even exhibits fermented overtones.

The colour of the flesh (not always an indicator of the taste) ranges from almost white to bright golden yellow.

The

texture can be hard, like hard cheese, or creamy dryish or creamy

gooey. If it happens to be a bit runny then the fruit is overripe.

No

fruit other than durian can evoke such intense emotions. From the time

durian is chosen until it is eaten, it is surrounded by much suspense

and drama [I am not even touching on durian-related accidents and

injuries].

Unlike in Cambodia, where the fruit is simply sliced

open, in Malaysia it is pried opened without cutting into the flesh.

Sometimes it can be an intense struggle to open one, and may require

two people to pull it apart.

The most eagerly awaited part is when the flesh is revealed, and this is greeted with many exclamations.

Then

a session of poking takes place to test the softness of the flesh.

After that comes the tasting, when a dreamy expression may take over

the look on a face and various sounds of pure bliss may be made if the

taste matches expectations.

To the uninitiated, everything about the fruit is a challenge.

First,

how do you choose a good fruit? Knowing the cultivar and where the

fruit is grown can help, but you still should avoid one that is not

ripe, or overly ripe, or one that has a big seed with thin flesh.

There are many theories on how to choose a good durian, but none are foolproof.

It

is first judged by its size and shape. Then one is selected, and the

spikes are studied to see the size and their distance apart. Then,

holding it by the stem, its other end is sniffed. Next, it is held

close to the ear and shaken to check for the sound or lack of. Some

will lightly brush their nails over the spikes to hear the sound this

makes.

A properly ripened durian can be opened fairly easily.

Study the fruit closely, and you can see lines running down the its

skin lengthwise. Stick the tip of a strong blade - some even use a

screwdriver - into the opposite end to where the stem is.

Use your

other hand to hold the fruit steady (it will help to wear a thick glove

or hold a piece of really thick cloth). Twist and turn the blade to pry

it open along the two lines.

Once you get it to gape open, put

both hands in and grabbing each side firmly, use brute force to pull it

apart. Remove all the fleshy segments from the sections, then press

down on both sides of the open part of the fruit to open up the other

section.

If necessary, insert a thumb or finger along the dividing

line to facilitate the process. Continue until all sections are empty.

Next, hold your nose and enjoy the taste and texture.

But

honestly, part of the enjoyment of the fruit is the smell. A scientist

in Thailand has successfully developed an odourless cultivar that is

pending approval from the Ministry of Agriculture. It will never be a

hit with the locals.

The Javanese believe the durian has

aphrodisiac qualities; hence an Indonesian saying, durian jatuh, sarong

naik, or literally "durian falls, sarong goes up".

Of such high

regard is the fruit that a popular Malay metaphor durian runtuh (fallen

durians) is used to mean "an unexpected windfall".

Naturalist

Alfred Russel Wallace wrote in 1856 "...to eat Durian is a new

sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience..." Here you are in

the East.

What are you waiting for? Tis the season ... I dare you, experience.

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