As you browse the stalls of Ho Chi Minh City’s markets, you’ll find the sort of wares once whispered about by the merchant ship captains who plied the waters of the Far East. There are delicate balls of dried tea that, once dropped in hot water, unfold to reveal brilliant flowers. There are lacquered serving trays covered with gold leaf and wooden chopsticks inlaid with jade. There are, too, rows of fruit grown in the hot climates of Southeast Asia, spiked and oddly shaped, wild specimens of an exotic world.
If you follow your nose among the stacked dragon fruit and purple mangosteens, past the rambutans with their bristled skin, you will come upon Vietnam’s most coveted – and unsettling – delicacy: the durian.
A single durian can weigh up to 15 pounds, and the thick green skin is a mesh of spines. Its somewhat lumpy oblong body has the air of a malformed fruit. Slice open a durian, and inside the flesh is yellow and smooth, like butter, and gives off a smell like unwashed socks, so pungent that some airports and hotels have banned the stinky fruit.
But make no mistake – the durian is very much a delicacy. Its fruit is creamy and custard-like, sweet with hints of almonds. The Vietnamese will tell you, “The fruit tastes like heaven but smells like hell,” and durian have long been considered an aphrodisiac and healthful cure-all.
While you can purchase the fruit by the kilo, many markets also sell durian candy. Try one of the taffy-like chews for a taste that is equally repugnant and sweet. They will start you on your way to enjoying one of Vietnam’s most notorious treats, for the durian is very much an acquired taste.
Photo courtesy of http://www.durianseller.com/info.html