Opinion: For the love of durian

Joyce Ng is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected]

Joyce Ng

I have discovered that here in the U.S., Asians have a reputation for eating strange foods. My friends often joke with me about how I eat cats and insects back home. While Malaysian cuisine does not usually include felines and bugs, I’m aware that the average American thinks that some of our food is strange and gross. I once introduced a friend to some canned lychees, a tropical fruit, and she remarked that they look like eyeballs.

Malaysians also enjoy eating their fish whole — head, tail and all — something some of my friends refuse to eat. Admittedly, I find pig blood and liver soup pretty unappetizing, but I know plenty of Malaysians who enjoy it thoroughly.

While watching an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network recently, I found myself feeling highly offended by the judges’ description of durian. Durian is known as “The King of Fruit” and is native to Southeast Asia. It has a somewhat scary-looking, green and spiky hard shell. Its flesh on the inside is yellow, soft, sweet and creamy. The thing that scares many people away from the durian is its pungent smell. The judges of “Chopped” described the durian as smelling and tasting like rotten meat and garbage.

I was really surprised at how offended I was by those statements. Sure, everyone is entitled to like and dislike whatever foods they wish. But it was the way the judges made those statements about durian as fact that annoyed me. The durian is a beloved fruit in Malaysia and many other parts of Southeast Asia. I most certainly do not think that we enjoy the taste of garbage and rotten meat. Of course, my annoyance at the “Chopped” judges is merely a short-lived one, but it left me wishing that all of us would be a little less quick to judge other cultures’ cuisines.

Although seemingly petty, my strong desire to defend the durian makes sense. One of my favorite things to read, watch and write about is food. There’s nothing more basic to life than food. It’s a universal language — we all get hungry every day, and we Malaysians love our food. If you offend our food, you’re offending our way of life.

The next time you’re in an Asian restaurant, ditch General Tso’s chicken and lo mein and try something new. And if you’re ever so lucky to find yourself in Southeast Asia one day, give “The King of Fruit” a chance — you might be pleasantly surprised. However, if you end up agreeing with the “Chopped” judges, at least you can take pride in being very brave, given the terrible reputation that durians have gotten in the U.S.