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Toxic Cookies

Oh, boy. Today I did something that was both anthropological and fairly dumb. On the other hand, I've done it, and I'm proud of it, and I will never do it again.



There's a particular fruit, native to Indonesia, called the durian. Indonesians love it; they call it the "king of fruits." Reports from some Westerners who've eaten one describe the texture as creamy and smooth, and the flavor as delicate and complex. . . and the smell as various combinations of rotting meat, pig shit, and natural gas, which is why relatively few Westerners have been known to eat durian. And the smell of fresh durian is said to be extremely penetrating, carrying for half a mile or more. This is why Singapore bans them on public transportation, along with smoking.

Last quarter, in Southeast Asian Musical Practices class, the subject of durians came up somehow. None of us students had ever tried one, though we'd heard all the stories. The professor actually had eaten them, and claimed to like them. I was curious, and stated that I would certainly take a bite if one was offered, just to see if I could stomach it. Well, one of the other students was in a Chinese grocery store and saw a package of durian-flavored wafer cookies. Just as curious as me, he bought it. He kept forgetting to bring it to school, but today, he remembered.

He'd wrapped the package in three layers of plastic wrap and sealed it into a Ziploc bag, but the odor of natural gas still leaked out of the package. He gave it to me right before Ethnographic Methods, which meant that I was the one to sit with this highly aromatic thing in front of me for three hours in a classroom full of my colleagues and friends. It did indeed smell pretty foul. After class, my friend and I carried it outside, behind the library, and we examined it.

We noted two things. 1: Durian wafers are not kosher for Passover, so he got permanent custody of the package. 2: Like most wafer cookies, these had artificial flavoring, which brings up the interesting question of who makes artificial durian flavoring, and how thick are the hazmat suits in the factory? After we'd noted these issues, I unwrapped the package, and we both gagged a little at the puff of smell it released. Then we each took a cookie and chowed down.

The result was. . . interesting. Smell and taste are pretty much two halves of the same sense, so logic would indicate that something that smelled that bad would taste pretty terrible. The thing is, it didn't taste half as bad as we had initially feared. Basically, the mouth was saying "hey, sugared melon-like fruit, not half bad," while the nose was saying "Aooga! Aooga! Dive! Dive! Dive!" The ultimate flavor was somewhat layered. The problem being that it was the smell that lingered long after you'd eaten the cookie, not the taste.

Our verdict was that we had been very brave, we'd had a great cultural experience as a result, and that the ultimate fate of the rest of the package of cookies would probably involve a blowtorch. But at least I can say that I've eaten, if not actual durian itself, at least something powerfully durian-flavored, and we both survived!

Comments

( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
meckinock
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:00 am (UTC)
the mouth was saying "hey, sugared melon-like fruit, not half bad," while the nose was saying "Aooga! Aooga! Dive! Dive! Dive!"

LOLOL. You know the odor of natural gas is artificial in itself - I wonder if somehow it was modeled on the durian in the first place.

I hope you have a very enjoyable Passover. Does this mean that durian cookies are off-limits now so you won't be tempted to recreate the experience?
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
You know the odor of natural gas is artificial in itself

I didn't know that. Wow. You learn something new every day. I guess they flavor it so that people can tell when they've got a gas leak, right?

And, yes, durian cookies are now off-limits for a week. Which means that my friend gets the pleasure of disposing of the fetid little package of cookies, while I get to go to two big rollicking Pony family seders.
meggins
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:50 am (UTC)
I know someone who has no sense of smell, so he would probably enjoy durian or durian-based products.

I salute your culinary adventurousness!

Happy Passover!
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:59 am (UTC)
Can your friend still taste, even without the sense of smell? Whenever I have the lurgy and get stuffed up, I can't really taste my food any more. But if he can still taste, he just might enjoy durians (as long as he doesn't enjoy them on public transportation in Singapore). The texture and flavor is supposed to be really incredible for those who can get past the smell.

I salute your culinary adventurousness!

That's certainly one term for it. Other appropriate terms might be: feline-murdering curiosity, and terminal experimentation.
(no subject) - meggins - Apr. 4th, 2007 12:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frenchpony - Apr. 4th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
karenator001
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:21 am (UTC)
Our verdict was that we had been very brave, we'd had a great cultural experience as a result, and that the ultimate fate of the rest of the package of cookies would probably involve a blowtorch. But at least I can say that I've eaten, if not actual durian itself, at least something powerfully durian-flavored, and we both survived!

Congratulations! I think.

Being Southern and of questionable mind, I attempted once to try chitterlings, or as known around here, chittlins'. It smells exactly like what it is. I could not, would not, did not. The beagle, a dog that would eat anything, wouldn't eat it. The cat fled as if pursued by wild dingoes. Yuck. Into the garbage it went.
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:34 am (UTC)
Do I even want to know what chittlins actually are? I'm guessing some unappetizing part of a pig.

Imagine a dinner of chittlins followed by durian for dessert. The smell alone would designate the kitchen that prepared the dinner as a Superfund site well into the foreseeable future.
(no subject) - karenator001 - Apr. 3rd, 2007 05:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frenchpony - Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
bodkin_ra
Apr. 3rd, 2007 06:05 am (UTC)
I've seen David Attenborough eat durian - and it looked creamy and attractive, although his face suggested its fragrance was decidedly unappealing. But he bravely ate some.

And durian-flavoured isn't durian itself, so should you go to Singapore and its environs, you are still curiosity-impelled to seek out the fruit to give the real thing a go - in comparison!

The hotels in Singapore have pictures of durian fruit in them, forbidding guests from taking the fruit into them. I think that once the smell gets into the air conditioning system, it is not easy to get rid of it! I'm rather too squeamish to fancy the idea of a fruit that smells like a non-functioning sewage system, so I wasn't tempted to investigate further.
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
I've seen David Attenborough eat durian

Yes, he would, wouldn't he? I saw it on a National Geographic special about the weird things that people eat, and I have to say that I was intrigued. When the opportunity to test out durian flavoring in a relatively safe, highly sugared context arose, I just couldn't say no. And that's why I'm an ethnomusicologist, I guess.

you are still curiosity-impelled to seek out the fruit to give the real thing a go

Unfortunately, yes. If we are ever in a place where there are good durians on offer, I'll make sure to brush my teeth and fumigate myself before reporting in on whether the taste is as nice as people claim. Because durian breath has got to be the worst of all possible worlds.
(no subject) - bodkin_ra - Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bodkin_ra - Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frenchpony - Apr. 4th, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bodkin_ra - Apr. 4th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
Part of what helped was the pre-warning that they would smell like natural gas. I know what natural gas smells like, so that was a known quantity. And my friend had wrapped them in layers and layers of plastic, and I got to sit with them for three hours and get used to the smell. And we ate them outside. Experimental conditions were about as good as they could get.

I'd eat an iguana. . .
dawtheminstrel
Apr. 3rd, 2007 10:36 am (UTC)
My hat's off to you, FP. And my stomach tightened up just reading this.
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:23 pm (UTC)
You know, we never did get around to discussing Anthropology as Cultural Critique, but I guess that some anthropology got done anyway, the minute we opened that cookie package.

My hat's off to you, FP

Ah, but I still haven't had real, fresh durian yet. . . when I do that, your hat really will be off. And you will be using it to fan away the fumes that will surely emanate right through the internet as I describe that experience.
jay_of_lasgalen
Apr. 3rd, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I've heard of durian - an LJ friend who lived in Singapore said it was the worst thing he'd ever eaten - but I've never tried it. What's more, I don't intend to :>)

I think you're very brave! (Or very foolish)


Jay
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)
I think you're very brave! (Or very foolish)

Possibly both. The two tend to go hand in hand.
fafojoy
Apr. 3rd, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
I had a roommate in college who didn't sleep much and off cooked in the middle of the night. Waking to the smell of strong curry at 4 am was too much for me. Needless to say, I couldn't have eaten durian unless I was starving, LOL
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's one messed-up roommate situation there. Cooking curry at 4 in the morning is just rude.

Perhaps the first people to try durian actually were starving?
elliska
Apr. 3rd, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
ROTFLMAO!!!!! That's about all I can choke out between gasps for breath!
frenchpony
Apr. 3rd, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
That's just one of the side benefits of doing things like this. I get to brag about them, and make you all laugh.
canyon_lady
Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, god, not durians! I haven't been brave enough to try one yet. Probably because last time I was offered one, we were at a produce market in Malaysia. If you think the cookies smell bad, imagine a whole pile of the real thing sitting in the sun on a hot day.

My mother in law orders durian milkshakes from time to time *shudders*
frenchpony
Apr. 4th, 2007 01:26 pm (UTC)
I can only imagine the effect of that durian pile. That's why my curiosity about the real thing hasn't been too affected by the cookies yet. Out of curiosity, where does your mother in law order the durian milkshakes from?
(no subject) - canyon_lady - Apr. 4th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
ns_tulkas
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'm saving this entry under 'funny', I just laughed my ass off and made my little brother worried. He actually stopped the computer game and looked at me!
frenchpony
Apr. 4th, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
Ah, the things we will do for art. . .
greywing12
Apr. 8th, 2007 10:36 am (UTC)
Hope you don't mind a random comment....
Hi, just came across this while LJ-surfing (from crowdaughter's LJ). I think the smell and taste of durian is one of the most wonderful things in the world! Admittedly it is very pungent, but once you've gotten used to it there is a kind of underlying fragrance....LOL. Durian fruit varies in taste-- mostly a very creamy texture, but the firmness of the flesh ranges from a soft, yielding mush to something like-but-not-quite-like custard, and the flesh itself ranges from very sweet to bitter, depending on the variety.

Now, that was a very long, rambling post. Forgive me!

P.S: Cookies are no substitute for the real thing!
frenchpony
Apr. 9th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: Hope you don't mind a random comment....
Given that I've only had the cookies, I'm still rabidly curious to taste actual durian fruit. I know that the difference between raspberry flavoring and actual raspberries is enormous, and I can only imagine what it must be with durians. But still, I think the cookies were quite an accomplishment. My friend and I have proved that we will in fact eat something that, whether or not it's real durian, still smells like natural gas, and now we've got bragging rights!
meckinock
Apr. 8th, 2007 01:10 pm (UTC)
Don't miss the article about durians in the Sunday Times.
frenchpony
Apr. 9th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
But. . . but. . . but breeding out the smell takes half the fun away from durians! Besides, I can't imagine what it does to the taste, since smell and taste are two halves of the same sense.
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )