The Zen of eating durian fruit

What is fruit supposed to taste like?

If I were asked that question not long ago, I would have said:

juicy,

sweet,

and slightly tangy, maybe a little sour.

Mmm, those lovely crunchy apples from our garden, summertime plums and forest berries!

Now, in Malaysia there is a fruit that will turn any new-comers’ understanding of “fruitiness” perfectly upside down. Much has already been written about durian, and Youtube offers man a clip of someone trying the fruit for the first time, but I shall add my two cents nonetheless. In my mind, eating durian was a very multi-layered experience, not to say transcendental.

It happened like that: our lovely friends here, Mr Nee (the father of a kung-fu champion girl, XingYing) and his family, invited us to go to Chinatown. En route from the parking lot, I saw a stand proudly featuring rows of the famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) spiked durian beasts. The stand had a small plastic roof and plastic tables to the side, and you could either purchase little portions of durian, pre-packaged in plastic, or a whole fruit, and should you wish to, devour it right at the tables provided on little plastic plates.

I wanted to purchase a small sample, but our hosts did not believe in half-measures, they ordered two huge heads of durian, which the vendors promptly sliced with huge machetes, and oferred to us accompanied by a box of plastic gloves and about a hundred paper napkins each.

Soon the reason for this became apparent: durian produces a very strong smell (think maybe… garlic soaked in vinegar and then mixed with something rotting), which rather does stick to you.

Huanhuan eats durian - smaller.png

But smell aside, there is the issue of the TASTE. So you must be asking yourself at this point, how does this relate to Zen?

Well, I found that the only way to eat durian is to rid yourself of any expectations of what fruit should taste like. Any at all. As long as you remember fruit, think of fruit, allow yourself to be guided by past experiences of eating this or that, you will likely experience an overpowering gag reflex.

Actually, you should empty your mind of any expectation of what food should taste like. This is easier said than done! Especially when faced with the durian. Durian is not sour, not bitter, not umami, definitely not sweet or salty per se. It is… well, it SMELLS rotten, but it tastes something different altogether. I think feasting on durian should be used as a test on some unsuspecting monks :)

This humble culinary experience can become a powerful metaphor of how we should live. It is easy to have a habit of expecting something because of what we experienced in the [past of what we were taught to believe. Say, just today, we moved from a spacious AirBnB apartment to a tiny hostel room. The kids started off hating our cozy little room with a passion. Why? All because of their expectations of what a “hotel” should be. Here, there is no swimming pool, no sofa, no space to be in apart from the bed, and the corridors are made of bare concrete (although swept clean). Yet once they managed to forget about their expectations, they became open to the experience as is, and we found we can actually get very well organised, all three of us with our mountains of clutter, in this minuscule space. And with no other distractions, we have to be actively spending time with each other, and actually the brother and sister had plenty of fun playing simple, old fashioned games.

Here is a picture of just how tiny this room was, wall to wall:

BunkandBulik room smaler.png

The Zen mind is to allow things to unfold without the need to put them into your preconceived framework of good or bad, comfortable or uncomfortable, etc etc.

Now, I can actually enjoy durian! Though I find it as strong as liquor in some sense, and cannot take more than two or three pieces. I hope I manage to always enjoy the unexpected that way.