Even thinking about a first taste of durian fruit can be daunting, so a gradual approach might be the way to go.
At the Eden Center in Falls Church, you can find the Southeast Asian fruit blended into smoothies (with the optional addition of boba balls, a.k.a. tapioca pearls) with condensed milk. Or head to one of the Washington area’s suburban ethnic supermarkets, such as H Mart, Lotte and Grand Mart, where you can often find durian-flavored wafer cookies, pastries and ice cream.
(WAN MOHIZAN WAN HUSSEIN/BAO SHENG DURIAN FARM) - Chang Teik Seng holds out an Ang Bak durian from his orchard. Ang Bak is one of the durian varieties for which Penang is famous.
When you feel up to trying the fruit on its own, you’ll be able to find frozen pods of durian fruit in the freezer case and whole, fresh durian in the produce section of ethnic supermarkets. Grand Mart often carries both.
When handling the whole fruit, keep in mind these selection tips from Penang farmer Durian Seng:
Shake it. If you hear something moving inside, it means the durian fruit has dried out.
Look at the stem. Really fresh durian will have a stem end that’s still moist and light in color. The longer the durian has been off the tree, the darker and drier the end of the stem will be.
Smell it. Durians ripen from the stem down, so always smell the area around the stem. First, use your hand to shield the exterior thorns to avoid a pricking injury. The stronger the aroma, the riper and fresher the fruit.
To open a whole durian fruit, cover a work surface with newspaper. Look for “seams” in the durian shell created where the thorns grow in toward each other; these mark how the fruit is sectioned inside. Use a sharp knife (or a screwdriver and hammer) to dig into the durian along the seams. Once a deep enough incision has been made, pry the hull apart with your hands. Repeat the process along each seam until all sections of the fruit have been opened.
To eat the durian, take out the pods of fruit. Form your lips into an “O” shape and suck on a durian pod, taking in the first wave of fragrance. Once the membrane breaks and the pulp comes out, a second, stronger wave of fragrance emerges. When you swallow, you’ll smell as well as taste the third helping of bittersweet fragrance. Good durian should leave an aroma in your mouth for several minutes after you have eaten the fruit.
A popular way to eat durian in Southeast Asia is with sticky rice and coconut milk.