The first challenge to eating durian is finding one. The fresh fruit, imported from Malaysia and Thailand, is rare outside of cities with large Southeast Asian communities and well-connected international grocers. It's more commonly sold frozen in ethnic supermarkets and online.
The next challenge is stifling the gag reflex long enough to get a spoonful down your throat. The fruit's aroma is notoriously noxious. It's been compared to dead fish, rotting compost and a latrine. Even in its native land, where it's hailed as "the king of fruits," it's banned in hotels, airports and the subway.
With a smell that awful, you'd figure a food must taste awfully good to become a national icon. You'd be right. The durian's taste has been likened to bananas, caramel and walnuts, and sometimes all three, with a hint of vanilla and sweet onion. Its texture is soft, almost gooey, like custard.
What accounts for this cruel, gastronomic joke? Durians contain sulfuric compounds similar to the ones that give onions and garlic their eye-watering sting. But they're also unusually high in sugar and fat, making them rich and creamy. It's easy to go overboard when eating durian, as legions of fans will attest.
If you should develop a durian habit, take heart: Scientists are working to create less stinky varieties. That upsets some long-time durian lovers. To them, the foul aroma sharpens the anticipation of eating.
Next: a food that a lot of people consider a pest.