From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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Durian in South Korea

I was walking down the streets of Sorae on Wednesday afternoon and found this truck loaded with durian. It was the first time I’ve seen durian being sold in Korea, so I got excited to take a photo and show it to my husband. Hubby and I are not crazy about this fruit, but I remember our ordeal trying to find one in the Philippines when durian was not in season. I even talked about it in a post entitled Disappointed over Durian.

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These durians are quite pricey. The big ones cost 30, 000 KRW (1151.30 PHP) (28.33 USD); the small ones are 25, 000 KRW (959.42 PHP) (23.61 USD). (No wonder the sign under 두리안 says WE ACCEPT PAYMENT VIA CARD.^^) Well, everything is expensive in Sorae, and people from this place won’t mind buying a costly fruit just to know what the “King of fruits” really tastes or smells like.

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An ajumma asked the vendor from where the durians are imported. He said they’re from the Philippines. Southern Mindanao is known as the “Durian capital” in the Philippines. Other countries in Southeast Asia that are also famous for this intriguing fruit are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam. Those who have tried the fruit have different opinions about it. Some people like the smell; some don’t. The smell has been described by others as strong perfume, rotten onions, gym socks, turpentine, or sewage. As for me, the smell of durian is similar to the sweaty armpit of somebody who hasn’t taken a shower for days! Some people like durian because of its mushy and sweet taste, but my husband and I think the fruit tastes strange.

If you can’t handle the smell of the fruit, you can try durian candy or durian chips. I bought some when I went to Malaysia. The putrid smell of durian isn’t there, but they sure taste like durian.


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Disappointed over Durian

This year’s Philippine vacation, the first thing that my husband looked for was durian. He had never tried the fruit and he was very curious about it.  Durian is notorious for its abominable odor that Richard Sterling, travel and food writer, describes as “pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock”. In fact, the fruit’s smell is so bad that it is forbidden in some hotels and public transportations in Southeast Asia. Despite its preposterously pungent odor, they say that durian has a mild, sweet flavor that is unique and pleasant to the palate. Well, my husband and I tried it for the first time and we think that much of what is said about durian is just exaggeration.

Durian is not that cheap in the Philippines. Prices range from 300 to 600 Php (8,000 to 16, 000 KRW) (7 to 14 USD), depending on the size of the fruit and where you buy it. (Durian is more expensive in grocery stores.) We wanted to buy the best durian, so the price didn’t matter to us, but Mom told us that the best place to buy fruit (any fruit) is the market. Hubby and I went to Talipapa, near Nepo Mart, and found just the right size of durian we wanted. We paid barely 300 for the fruit; delighted that we were given a discount. The vendor asked us if we wanted to have the durian cut open, because if we cut it ourselves, we might cut the seeds by accident. That will make the durian taste bitter. Hubby was afraid that the durian would start to smell once it’s cut open, and we could be kicked out of the jeepney, so he asked the vendor to teach us how to cut the fruit instead. The vendor drew a line around the spiky skin of the durian and told us to cut through the fruit along that line. The knife should not penetrate the durian by more than 2 inches.

My husband was very excited to finally smell and taste durian. To his disappointment, when the fruit was cut open, the smell wasn’t THAT absurd. Hongo sashimi (홍어회) smells ten times worse, I’m telling you. Neither is it as delicious as they say it is. The fruit is very soft and tastes rather strange. I have to agree with Chef Andrew Zimmern. The taste compares to “completely rotten, mushy onions”. After trying some, no one in the family wanted to have a second round. It was kept in the fridge for days and every time we opened the refrigerator, the smell of sweaty armpit permeated the kitchen. I think the stink of the fruit doesn’t come out the moment you open it, or maybe we bought a not-so-smelly durian… but wait for a few days, and the smell of your durian will most probably make you want to throw it away. I guess that’s what Mom did when hubby and the rest of the family refused to eat the whole thing. Poor forlorn durian… ^^