Friday, November 14, 2008

November 13, 2008 - Singapore

Tonight Karen and Glenn had us over to their beautiful apartment, where we enjoyed a meal of classic Singapore dishes, including hokkien mee, which is a noodle dish with seafood, oyster omelette, stewed pigs trotter (Glenn was apparently testing our claim that we will eat anything), chicken rice, which is right up there with chili crab as one of Singapore's signature dishes, and to top it all off, Karen's mom's homemade chicken curry. It was an amazing feast, most of which was procured from hawkers in their neighborhood. As Glenn explained, the best food in Singapore is found in the red light districts, and he and Karen are lucky enough to have one just down the street. Seriously, if we lived in their neighborhood, we would never bother to cook.

But the most memorable part of the evening for us has to be our first real encounter with durian, the"King of Fruits." Durians have prickly hard shells. The inside of the fruit is filled with a silky-white fibrous mass, within which lies fleshy pulp, the color of butter, which is the edible part.

The pulp looks a bit like a larval worm, nestled in its cocoon

Our first encounter with this stinkiest of fruits was in the form of an ice cream sandwich a few days ago. After tasting it, we could identify the smell of the fruit on some fellow MRT passengers. The strong odor is why there are signs on the trains prohibiting the fruit from being brought on board.

After dinner, we all trooped down to the durian stand across the street. We could smell it as we crossed the street - kind of a sour cheese, rotten onion smell. Karen negotiated with the vendors, sampling the fruit until she was happy. She offered Sten a taste, and he gamely popped some in his mouth. The expression on his face was indescribable. He managed to choke it down, but he wasn't looking for seconds. I tried some next, and found the flavor to be the most unique thing I've ever had in my mouth. The pulp had a custardy texture, and the flavor was certainly rich and creamy, but it had notes of something rotten that made it a bit off putting.

We knew that the fruit was prized locally, but we nearly fell over when Glenn paid $90 Singapore dollars (about $60 USD) for two durians. By the time we got the durians back to their apartment, I was ready to have another go at it. I found that I liked the complexity of the flavor, which on further tasting yielded alcoholic notes - sort of like sherry - and hints of almond. Sten politely tried a few more bites, but he isn't interested in having it again.
" . . . to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience."
-- Alfred Russel Wallace (the Wallace Line guy, whom I blogged about here), 1856
I couldn't agree more with Mr. Wallace, but Sten would beg to differ. In the 19th century it was necessary to travel to Southeast Asia to try a durian. Although there are some less pungent varieties being grown in Mexico and America, it is still necessary to travel to this region to try the real McCoy. Trying durian has been one of the highlights of our visit to Singapore for me (less so for Sten).

In Chinese medicine, durian is considered a heaty fruit. Eating it can cause one to sweat, burp and fart. After eating it, both of us experienced a bit of gas, but the real treat was waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. Seriously, this is a powerful fruit.

One thing I can not fathom about durian is the Indonesian saying: "When the durians ripen and fall, the sarongs go up." It seems unlikely that something that makes you sweaty and bloated is considered an aphrodisiac, but to each their own.

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