A couple of weeks ago, I was walking around London’s Chinatown with an American friend when we noticed a distinct, pungent smell. I was delighted–I hadn’t smelt that for so long.
“Did someone just poop here? This is disgusting,” my friend said.
“The fruit. We eat them all the time in Vietnam.”
“You eat them? Eww.”
That’s pretty much the generic reaction you can expect from a Westerner who has never come into contact with durians before. I always find it ironic considering that they eat equally disgusting things like cheese.
I have this theory: durians to Westerners is like cheese to Asians. The more you are exposed to it, the more you like it. If you grow up in one of those countries where people can name different kinds of cheese, you have probably been exposed to it for so long you have forgotten how disgusting cheese actually is. James Joyce, Ulysses’s author, had a brilliant way to put it: “A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what’s cheese? Corpse of milk.”
Cheese is basically rotten milk with the smell of rotten milk. Walking through the cheese section at any grocery store is like walking through a stuffy frat house where someone spilt a gallon of milk the week before and never cleaned it up. To curdle cheese, they use Rennet, the enzyme often obtained from the inner lining of the stomachs of baby animals. Limburger cheese has the same kind of bacteria that make your feet smell bad. And don’t even get me started on blue cheese. Seriously, who was the first person to look at the blue, mucky mold growing out of their rotten curdled milk and said to himself: “That looks real good, I’m gonna put that thing into my mouth?”
And to think, that very same person calls durians disgusting.
Anyway, my point is that our tastes are acquired, and what you think of as gross might not necessarily be gross from someone else’s point of view. Instead of asking: “Why do you eat gross things like durians?”, give durians a try. Or not. I don’t know. I’m not your Mom. Do whatever the hell you want, just don’t call me gross for eating durians.