How durian became a “bomb”?

Durian is my favorite fruit. Popular in South East Asia from Vietnam to Malaysia, durian stands out for its thorn-covered rind and offensive aroma but pleasant taste.

When its season comes in the summer, I tend to devour it fresh as much as I can without ever worrying that this yummy, healthy treat will definitely cause pimples over my face due to its high amount of fat and calories.

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People tend to love durians at first taste or just hate it. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Never did I think of the day I would have to hold back my love for it and name it a “bomb.”  Though the story happened almost three years ago, it still comes back to my mind whenever I eat my loved durian.

“About five days into my journey to America which started late July, 2011, Janice drove me to an Asian supermarket owned by a Vietnamese family about 20 minutes away from her home to get Vietnamese groceries since she knew how much I missed my foods.

Janice, an oval-shaped, gentle-looking widow with more than 25 years of experience in writing, was the first who contacted the International Language Institute of Massachusetts when the school was seeking a local family for my home-stay. As the Fulbright program’s arrangement, I would spend my first month to study at ILI before transferring to Boston for my two-year program at Emerson College.

Never did I think that I would have my delicious fruit that early in that small town which is 96 miles (154 km) west of Boston. Walking around aisles in that jam-packed supermarket, I was thrilled when catching the sight of the only frozen, big-sized durian left in a fridge as if it had been waiting there for me.

I picked it up and brought it to the cashier counter, never minding that it wasn’t a product of Vietnam, that it was priced at more than 15 bucks and that it was as tough as a stone. That meant I would have to wait for it to unfreeze before I could open and enjoy it.

I told Janice right in the grocery how elated I was to find my preferred fruit in her hometown. The more I talked about my love for durians, the more she got interested in tasting it. She said she would invite her good buddies to come and try my fruit.

After two days of patiently waiting to have my durian, her four friends came for dinner and Janice decided durian would be our dessert.

I was excited. Janice was excited. So were her friends.

When the durian was opened – without a knife thanks to its rind getting much soft after thawed, I just wanted to get the first bite.

The moment Janice and her buddies first smelled it, I could tell immediately that my loved fruit would never have a chance to win their hearts.

They still wanted to taste it, though. Just because I was Janice’s new housemate, I believed.

Until now, I still remember how reluctantly they were eating durian. Still, what made me feel bad was that I didn’t know the fruit’s distinctive smell was that unpleasant to them.

The story, however, didn’t end there.

A day later. It was in the late afternoon when I got back from school with the intention to fully enjoy it when nobody was home. But I just couldn’t find my durian in Janice’s kitchen though I remembered well that I put it in the fridge.

It seemed as if my durian had vanished into the air altogether with its notorious smell.

I didn’t know where it was until Janice returned home in the evening and told me that my durian was placed in my room upstairs.

It was just right next to my bed in a dark blue lunch bag. She told me that she was sorry to do that way with my favorite food since her youngest daughter could not bear the stinky smell when she entered the house.

Janice said she couldn’t throw my durian away since she knew how much I love it. The only way she could do was to put it in a plastic box then covered the box with multiple layers of aluminum foil and placed it in her zipped lunch bag and brought it to my room.

When I uncovered the fruit, it was already inedible and its pungent smell got ever worse following more than 12 hours out of the fridge. I couldn’t help but putting the durian box into the trash bin. A blue feeling invaded me then.

Because of that unexpected experience, I refrained from having durians during my two years in Boston, even when my Vietnamese friend asked me to help her get one when I shopped in an Asian supermarket.

The durian story was often part of our talks whenever I returned to Easthampton to meet Janice. Since that memorable day, she and I coined a new word for my durian.

We named it humorously “durian bomb.””

(August 4, 2011)

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