Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Read about durien many years ago. It's described as an asian fruit that smells like rotten flesh and tastes wonderful and sweet. Smell and taste seem so intrinsically tied that it made me very, very curious. Today at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant I noticed a durien milkshake on the menu. Good day for new things.

I've been coming to this restaurant since it opened. I've watched the waitress, the owner's daughter, grow up from a tiny girl with an attitude to a tiny woman with an attitude. Today she wore a T-shirt "Don't give me your attitude, I've got one of my own" that, combined with the nose stud, probably gives her parents coniptions.

"Have you decided?"
"Nope. What's really good that I've never ordered?"
"You never order the fish. The fish stew or the seafood vermicelli." She didn't hesitate at all.
"Fish stew. What's darien like?"
She made a face. "Not everybody likes it. It tastes okay, but it smells awful."
"I'll try it."
She shrugged, wrote it down and stalked off.

The fish stew came in a big bowl. Pho broth with noodles, vegetables and a lot of processed, pressed fish: fish meatballs, fish noodles, fish discs and krab; and a nutty vegetable that isn't in the beef pho that was very good, nutty and smoky. If I liked fish better, it would have been wonderful.

The durien came in a glass with a tight plastic cover that said "Happy Birthday" with a lot of kanji all around, a straw stuck through the cover and the wrapper still over the exposed end of the straw. I'm guessing that durien milkshakes are a birthday tradition somewhere and it was pre-packaged.

It was too cold to really smell, just a faint, unpleasant odor of rotting vegetation with something else. It didn't smell like rotten meat, but it wasn't exactly appetizing either. Took a healthy swig and it wasn't too bad. Sort of. The stuff was SWEET. There was a faint rotten taste mixed in with it, but the sweetness totally overwhelmed it.

Ah hah. Sweet is one of the tastes that the tongue can sense without smell, as they told us in fifth grade health class. Makes sense, sugar is powerfully flavorful but you can barely smell the stuff. Durien probably would taste as bad as it smelled if it wasn't for the natural sweetness of the fruit drowning it out. Mystery solved, at least to my satisfaction. If I liked sweet things, I might have finished the shake.

Durien belches, on the other hand, are bad. Right up there with pickled chicken feet belches, but that's another story.

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