Snapshots from Asia: The Inevitable Durian Post
Photographs by Shimin Wong
It’s been called “God’s gift to vegans” by devotees who love its naturally rich, creamy texture and pronounced bittersweet flavor. It’s also been accused of reeking of stale gym socks, sewage, and onions (all at once) and is persona non grata on public transport. Locals have a healthy respect for it—those spikes are sharp and will draw blood! And no one really dares test the myth that chasing it with alcohol will cause one’s bowels to explode.
Since the durian, this “king of fruits” has been much written about, along with its “queen," the mangosteen, I won't dwell on how, like grapes, they come in different varietals, with "aficionados" assessing them the way wine connoisseurs do wine. Neither will I elaborate on fans who regularly fork out obscene amounts of money to savor its pungent flesh. Nor reveal that similar to “hair of the dog” remedies, a time-honored way of ridding one’s fingers of residual scent and body of excess “heat” (a traditional Chinese medicinal concept), is to fill the empty durian shell with water and salt and stir with said fingers before downing the brine.
I will instead point out the red bucket suspended in the air—a common sight in many of Asia’s family-run businesses. Used in place of an electronic cash register, it’s rigged to a simple bell-and-pulley system. Each time money changes hands, the hawker simply reaches for the bucket and does his thing. This works well in small, open-air enterprises, where everyone is alerted to the bucket’s whereabouts by its jingling bell. No one person has monopoly over the register, and there’s no need to abandon one’s post so as to traipse to the back of a shop for change.
Oh, did I mention that the thorny fruit weighs so heavily on the local psyche that women openly and admiringly discuss the number of “durian seeds” (abdominal muscles) their men sport?
About the author: Wan Yan Ling, Serious Eats's overseas summer intern, is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Singapore. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work," or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.