Hear me out.
To start, imagine taking a relaxing stroll on a sunny day. There is just the right amount of breeze, and you have nowhere important to be. All of a sudden, a garbage truck zooms by and you catch a whiff of foul-smelling trash.
The stench lingers for about 10 seconds, but it’s enough to trigger your gag reflex.
This is exactly how I feel every time I walk by a durian stall.
People say that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. While this may be true if you find yourself in a B-grade romantic comedy, the cliché doesn’t apply when you abhor the smell of durian. It’s ridiculous to assume that your hatred for the fruit is merely a mask for true love.
However, to say I “hate” durian would be a misnomer. Rather, I hate its stench so much that in my almost 30 years of being alive, I’ve never been able to bring myself near enough to the fruit to try it.
Whenever I share this predicament with my friends, their reactions usually range from bemusement to threats of breaking up. My long-suffering durian-loving parents are more resigned to fate; they don’t bring durian home anymore, knowing it’ll render the fridge useless for a week.
Clearly, durian is the devil’s work and I’ve never wanted to be its advocate. Yet to arrive at this conclusion without having tried it isn’t very good journalism.
As it’s the Singapore Food Festival till the end of July, my team thought it’d be the perfect time to get this durian hater to embrace one of the most quintessentially Singaporean foods.
Over three days, I was to consume two to three durian-flavoured foods per day, culminating in finally tasting the actual fruit on the last day.
Fuck. My. Life.
This is how I find myself seated opposite a concerned friend, hand over nose, disgust written all over our faces, with a cup of durian McFlurry between us. I also order a packet of medium-sized fries to ‘balance’ out the pungence (and apparently, saccharine sweetness) of the McFlurry.
Before the first spoonful, I throw up twice in my mouth. The four tables around me are digging into the same putrid dessert. I momentarily wish I didn’t have my sense of smell since I clearly already lack common sense.
The initial taste hits me in the back of my throat. It’s as bad as it smells, which is to say I could have licked a rubbish chute and not have been able to tell the difference.
Even hot fries in ice cream, a naturally delightful combination, doesn’t make the sickening concoction any more palatable. I only finish one-quarter of the cup. If this isn’t bad enough, the aftertaste comes liberally spiked with regret and pure misery.
Long story short: the durian McFlurry single-handedly puts me off any McDonald’s ice cream for the rest of 2018.
Spoiler alert: it does.
I hold my breath the whole way through but am unable to stomach the entire serving, making that the second time in 28 years I don’t finish dessert. I feel my sanity and interest in food slipping away, and I’ve barely even gotten to dinner.
Perhaps it was a bad idea to sample two sweet foods consecutively. Come to think of it, I feel a little woozy. Somehow, this makes me think of medicine, which in turn brings to mind bittersweet syrup, making me feel sicker.
In defence of the gelato, there seems to be less artificial sweetener, making it a tad more edible than the McFlurry. The latter is a true nightmare that should be on the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s list of banned products.
The waitress advises me to pick a cake that contains several layers, including durian. At least I can scrape that off if I don’t like it.
No prizes for guessing what I do in the end.
To be fair, however, I see why Goodwood Park Hotel is the gateway drug into Durian Hell. The durian layer is smooth and creamy, and serving portions are decent. It also helps that there is free wifi and a view of the pool, effectively distracting you from the discharge in your mouth.
Nonetheless, Day 1 is enough to put me off durian for life. Even Goodwood Park Hotel can’t save me.
My first stop is People’s Park Complex, where I find durian tapioca cake sold by Durian History. Each piece is hot and freshly fried. The familiar pungence is masked by the savoury tapioca, making it an easily likeable snack. The tapioca cake burns my hands and melts in my mouth, and I devour it within minutes.
I am so confused by my body’s 180-degree transformation in its reaction to durian that it takes awhile to register—I’m actually craving another piece.
Taste wise, the dip is slightly bitter at first, but gives way to a sweet and cooling consistency. I continue to dip my fries and nuggets, as though I were simply eating them with chilli or mustard, instead of Eau de Urinal.
In a cafe surrounded by durians, while Christian worship music plays over the speakers, this durian hater demolishes two saucers full of durian dip. It is fucking surreal. I believe I’ve truly ascended to another metaphysical plane.
Maybe God exists after all.
I have never been more wrong in my life. Sweet Jesus, I am a mindblown convert.
The durian is generously slathered onto the dough, complete with cheese melted on top then caramelised. The cheese masks the pungence, and pairs well with the sweetness of MSW. Basically, I end up ordering a whole personal pizza of six slices for myself.
And I finish every last crumb.
So take it from this (former?!) durian hater, the hint of durian doesn’t feel too jelak. If you know how durian tastes, you’d be able to tell it was durian creme brûlée; if you’ve never tried durian, you might simply pass it off as creme brûlée with a ‘unique’ taste.
Apparently they don’t market the dessert as durian flavoured, because it puts people off. Cool diversion tactic, but even this freshly minted durian connoisseur does not appreciate durian being sprung on her. Thanks.
Realising that it’s my first time, the stall owner gets excited and cuts open a durian for me to sample. I go with Red Prawn, which I understand is great for first-timers. Characterised by its vibrant orange-red flesh, it’s creamier than most durians and intensely sweet.
The first mouthful is weird, but surprising. The texture is mushy, and the taste is an odd explosion of custard, cream, spice, and sugar. Even more unnerving is the fact that after three days of exposing myself to the taste of durian, the stench has also become bearable.
Frankly, this mundane scene of three generations reaching for durian over a dinner table, slurping up the fruit’s creamy flesh, then licking their fingers clean, is nothing short of miraculous.
In conclusion, I don’t hate durian anymore. I also now believe in God.
Or maybe I just have Stockholm Syndrome.