The texture of the durian is a lot like a soft cheese or custard, and maybe it is because of this sticky, cheese-like trait that some claim it smells like a pungent French cheese. In Singapore, it is up there with smoking and flammable materials as "no-nos" on public transport. For some, I suppose, being set on fire and smelling someone else's durian are on par for their undesirability.
The other night some friends came over to make and eat pizza. My friend Carlos was one of them. (You may remember him from such posts as this one, as the adopted grandchild/ busboy/ cash-register-operator at Lao Wang's Noodle House.) Carlos likes to do funny things. He was just back from a two-month trip to durian-loving places like Thailand and Malaysia, and when I asked our guests to bring over pizza toppings, well...you can tell where this is going.
A durian from Carlos' trip
I can't say for sure, but I am willing to bet good money that durian has never made its way onto a pizza before. And not without good reason. Not everything is good on pizza. (I once made a pizza with pastor meat. Surprisingly, I didn't like it.) But durian? With its soft, creamy texture and pungent sweetness--it sort of made sense.
The first pizza we made had pesto, durian, Chinese sausage and bits of fresh mozzarella. The durian lost almost all of its tart taste and piercing odor in the 500 degree oven, so that it ended up mostly sweet--but still powerfully sour. Baked like this it really did have the texture of cheese, but something with the pesto-durian combo didn't have me going in for a second piece.
Based on how sweet the first pie was, I thought using it like pineapple might work. So the next pizza had tomato sauce, mozzarella, diced Black Forest ham and of course durian. If the pineapple-ham pizza is the Hawaiian, then this most certainly can be called the Malaysian. The durian was, dare I say, a great substitute for pineapple--and maybe even better-- as the durian is so much more complex in flavor, goes so well with cheese and is not as acidic.
It wasn't a hit for everyone at our little party. Of the eight people to try it, there were only three of us to really eat it. The odor of the leftover durian, meanwhile, was strong and slowly began to take over the kitchen. Even now, hours after everyone has left, the smell of durian lingers all the way into my upstairs bedroom. It really is that intense.
"I wish I lived in a country where eating durian wasn't weird," says Carlos. He says all kinds of funny stuff like that, but it's true. Americans as a rule don't like things like durian, but there is no doubt our country would be much better if more people liked more foods like durian. But we do like our pizza, so if there is any way that the durian would ever be accepted in the US it would have to be on something else like a pizza. Or maybe deep fried in a twinkie. Hmmm. Now that's a thought.
Durian can be found in the frozen foods section of places like H-Mart. If you are food-curious, buy it, sniff it, slurp it, and maybe even put it on your pizza.