So I forgot to mention in my last post that we came to Malaysia to take part in the wedding of my friend Jin. The day before the wedding we met up at Jin’s house for a rehearsal for our Heng Dai shenanigans.
And by we, I mean me.
I had forgotten that things run on Malaysian Standard Time, which is whatever time everyone arrives.
So of course I got there two hours before everyone else – at the scheduled time – with nothing in particular to do, no map, and no way to contact anybody. The house I was at had no number, but I figured this was probably it. I knew I was in the right area, anyway.
As my taxi drove away I took a chance and rang the doorbell. I figured whoever lived there might know where I needed to go. An older gentleman answered. I asked after my friend, and his face lit up. “Yes, I’m his father.”
Score one for bravery.
For a house with no one home, there were an awful lot of people here. Jin’s sister was having her hair done by an auntie, while other aunties were buzzing around working on gift baskets and myriad other projects that need to happen before any wedding. The house smelled good, like someone had been cooking with onions.
Each one stopped in turn to introduce themselves. They were amazed that this was my first Chinese wedding – I figured that weddings held in Chinese restaurants didn’t really count – and spilled all the details on what to expect.
After a while they began to bring food.
First, some jackfruit… large, globby things with a huge pit that tasted like cantaloupe but had the consistency of string cheese. They were pretty good.
Then came mangosteen. Nothing at all like mango, they were sweet like lychee and a bit larger. Also they didn’t come in a spiny shell as if it were some part of a dragon’s anatomy.
Mooncake came next, both lotus seed paste and red bean paste. One of the aunties explained that these are given to the family of the bride so that they may give them to their neighbors. Apparently this tradition is very important, because if your daughter gets married and you don’t give everyone mooncake, your neighbors will ask “Is your daughter not worth anything?” So of course there are mooncakes.
I got to try one and it was delicious.
Countless other fruits and sweets came my way, to the point where everything I tried became a blur. Eventually the rest of the group showed up, we rehearsed, and dinner was served. Delicious fried rice, noodles, curries, chicken and other things.
Towards the end of dinner a large tupperware was brought out and set on our table. Its lid was carefully taped shut, but even so, I could smell a strong odor of sauteed onions or roasted garlic. Powerfully savory, with a little sweetness.
“What is that?” I asked.
Slowly, the tape came off and even though the lid was still on, the smell amplified by an order of magnitude.
I had heard of durian before. Unbelievably pungent, I have heard its smell described somewhere between that of gasoline, and coffee beans that had been eaten, digested, and then the byproduct brewed extra strong. The smell is so strong that many hotels in Asia post signs specifically prohibiting eating durian.
This smell definitely was pungent, but not entirely unpleasant. I didn’t get gasoline, nor brewed poop coffee.
“It smells good to me, like onions,” I said. The Malaysians in the room laughed.
Jin’s dad leaned over and said “They say it smells like shit, but tastes like heaven.” Heaven was drawn out, as if he were savoring the word itself. More laughter.
Then the lid came off. I was assaulted by the smell, pulled out of my chair and thrown to the ground, beaten mercilessly by sauteed onions and an indescribable sweetness.
“You like to try?”
I had been such a good sport with everything else, I couldn’t turn back now. I grabbed my fork and pulled a piece off.
I didn’t hesitate because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it if I did.
The durian melted away in my mouth, very smooth and creamy, with a sweet-savory taste. It was very good. Many of Jin’s family took entire hunks of durian and began eating with an enthusiasm I could not muster.
I’m told that Malaysian durian is some of the best of the world. Thai durian (the kind that gets exported to the US) is a chewier texture, nowhere near as creamy as this. Maybe that’s why it has such an ominous reputation; people are just trying the wrong kind.
The only drawback that I’d found at that moment was that, even after that tiny, tiny bite, all I could taste was durian. Curry? Durian. Chicken? Durian. Mooncake? Durian. Clearly I was done eating.
And then, at some point after dinner, after all the fruits, and sweets, and yummy food had been put away and forgotten about, I burped.
And I was assaulted all over again by a cloud of durian.
Clearly, this was going to be a very long night.