For the adventurous traveller and curious foodie, part of the joy of the holiday is discovering and trying new tastes, with Koh Chang a great place for experimenting with new fruits. The orchard produce is well known and one of its specialities is the king of the exotic fruits – the durian.
It seems extraordinary that anyone ever tried to eat a durian in the first place. Often as big as a rugby ball and covered in a thick hard skin of prickles which make it tricky to handle, the stench is much more off-putting, stinky beyond belief and that’s being polite! It’s has to be the world’s smelliest fruit, like a pungent heap of sweaty socks and trainers, invading the air and lingering for hours. Think of a heavy garlic eater when they walk into a room and quadruple – or more – that effect.
Fabulous fruits are abundant at this time of year, mangoes, mangosteens and rambutans, so many people say why bother with the durian? We used to be one of this number – but for many Thais the durian is considered a particular delicacy and eventually, with their encouragement, we tried it. Some people fall in love at first bite but for most, it is an acquired taste but once acquired – and we are now in this category – the durian’s devotees can quickly become obsessed with this unusual and amazing fruit. There are many varieties some sweeter, some meatier and the specialists prefer the more savoury flavour, a complex series of tastes. The fruit is a master chef’s creation, a carefully judged blend of flavours. Everbody has a different description but, for us, it’s like vanilla creme brûlée with caramelised onions.
Aficionados will drive along the roads of durian orchards and choose from the piles of fruit on the stalls that each farm sets up. They can tell whether the durian is good by the smell, the colour and feel of the thorny spikes and most importantly by the sound it makes when the fruit is knocked with a piece of wood. They also know the trick to opening it, separating the hard skin and prising out the soft yellow, custard-like flesh without shredding their hands on the prickles.
If you are going to try one, two pieces of advice
Don’t Drink and Durian
Skip the beer, durians don’t mix well with alcohol. Some people say that it can actually make you pretty sick and for sure it’s a combination that spoils and wastes the delicious tastes of both the fruit and the beer.
Best Eaten Outdoors
For a novice, the smart bet is to get one that is already prepared for you, it’s a little less smelly, much less messy and it’s definitely a fruit best eaten outdoors. You can forget about attempting to sneak one past the lobby of your hotel and even if you love eating them, you really wouldn’t want the aroma lingering in your room.
Some more facts about the durian.
They are not only exotic but expensive too, with some varieties of durian costing $50 or more, which weirdly can make the smelliest fruit in the world a perfect gift.
Airports, public transport systems and many hotels throughout South East Asia put up big notices in the durian season, forbidding the fruit due to its aroma. Indeed, the smell is the main reason why it is little known outside the continent, imagine the problems of trying to transport plane loads of them. However in Chantaburi, a neighbouring province to Koh Chang and a place which takes durians seriously – they hold an annual festival to the fruit – they have developed a variety with only a slight pong. The Thais scoff at this, they just can’t see the point, but a smell-ish free variety could be great for exporting and so maybe, one day, you too could be eating a durian bought in your local supermarket.