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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!


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.
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.
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
in a relatively safe, highly sugared context </>

That is just such a ... modern way of looking at it!

Although I rather eat durian than iguana. That's just icky!
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
And I missed out an </i> so it's all in italics!
Apr. 4th, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
Although I rather eat durian than iguana. That's just icky!

I'd be willing to bet that you'd only think it was icky if you knew ahead of time that you were eating iguana. If the meat were cooked into some unrecognizable form, as much meat in the Western world is, you probably wouldn't know you were eating iguana unless someone told you:

Apr. 4th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
Actually - as a life-long vegetarian, I think I'd always think eating iguana was icky. Although probably no more icky than eating anything else!


by Illsaysheis

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