My encounter with the Asian “Poo Fruit”
It smells like a fruity sewer. What would posses anyone to actually put it in their mouth is totally beyond me.
My first encounter with it was in Java, Indonesia. I was backpacking solo in Indonesia for the first time back in late 2008. On the map was a town known as Durjo, outside of Jember right up in the mountains. I arrived there with my backpack in a small, busted up taxi. A mini van, it had no door and rattled up the potholed track (which could be viewed through the rusty floor) into the hills. A cocoa and coffee growing town, it was surrounded by plantations. When I stepped out of the taxi and bid the driver farewell things became interesting…
The town seemed empty… for a few seconds. Then without warning people spilled out of every building and in an instant I was surrounded in a sea of Javans. All of the children had run out of school and stood the closest, poking at my legs to see if I was real (I am a great deal taller than anyone in Java). In fact this is the reaction I would expect if I was the first white person there. I would not be at all shocked if that were actually the case. Certainly nobody spoke even a single word of English. My Lonely Planet phrasebook came in very handy here, and I struggled, but managed to converse with the locals. I organized a guide to take me looking for snakes. Though I doubted it, they claimed that forest pigs and barking deer are regularly taken by giant reticulated pythons in these hills. The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) is likely the longest snake on earth and has been known to take people, but in such a densely populated place like Java the existence of giants seems unlikely. We did find a few toads, a flying lizard and some monkeys but there really was very little to see in the way of wildlife.
It was later that night (actually New Year’s eve!) that I was invited into the house of the most influential man of the village. I was staying with another family nearby who were very kind in taking me in.
This man owned the general store and possibly some of the plantations and was very highly respected in Durjo. He was only forty or so, had a goatee and a warm smile. The living room was furnished with carved wooden seats and decorated with pictures and tiny cages with songbirds. Among them were striated doves and a sort of local robin-like species. So I was ushered into his living room in what would be one of the most awkward conversations ever- due entirely to the language barrier. As this village is strictly Islamic, the local Imam came in as well. He was much older and also sported a thin, wispy goatee. He said almost nothing, in fact hardly anything at all was said, all three of us just looked awkwardly at each other. Some chicken was served by my host, and then he told me I was in for a real treat… the famous Durian!
He left for a moment and came back with this most unusual fruit, about three kilograms in weight. Already it had put up its defenses to avoid being eaten. The smell was overpowering, if an open sewer flowed past a fruiterers shop you would get something similar. Even the air around it seemed to thicken. The Durian’s second line of defense is the coating of needle-sharp triangular spines. Carelessly handling them will draw blood. My host cut along a weak spot and pulled the fruit open. What I saw was even more repulsive. It broke into five segments, inside each one was a soft pulp which looked just like an off-white human poo! It was even pointed at both ends! Combined with the horrible smell it is something that does not really appeal to the senses. If it were lying on the lawn or inside a baby’s pants you would leave it well alone. But people eat it! I was offered a “durian turd” which smelt like feces, looked like feces and felt mushy like I imagine feces to feel like. I put it in my mouth, I would not have- had I not seen it come from the fruit before my eyes. It was fruity and soft, and oddly tasted not much at all like the smell of the fruit. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as amazing as people say. In fact my Bornean friends still laugh at the fact I’m not a huge fan of it, though I will eat it if offered. But to Asians it is called the “king of all fruit” and, judging by its popularity and matching price tag I don’t doubt that at all…