Indonesia in Focus
Durian - King of the Fruits: Indonesia
I remember the first time I ever saw [and smelt] Durian fruit. I nearly spewed!. When the rainy season arrives in Indonesia, so does the roadside stall selling the delicacy. As Seizy Marcele Melody tells, in Jakarta the most popular spot is along Jalan Kalibata.
Durian tasting a hit in wet season
Seizy Marcele Melody
When it rains in Jakarta, commuters know better than to try and fight the traffic; the best thing to do is find a comfortable spot and settle down until the floods subside and the streets are no longer parking lots.
Many people prefer cafes and fast-food restaurants for waiting out the storm, but those with a little more savvy know the rainy season is the best time for eating durian, when the prices are much lower.
The most popular spot for durian lovers has for years been a row of simple stalls along Jl. Kalibata in South Jakarta, just across from the National Heroes Cemetery. Most of the stalls have rattan benches for customers and bottled water to quench the strong taste of the “king of the fruit” or for customers to rinse their hands.
No plates or forks are necessary, because the best way to eat durian is to scoop out the meaty, sometimes mushy, fruit with your fingers, right from the shell.
“I never miss durian season … I have been buying durian here since I was in high school,” said Ita, 27, who lives in Setiabudi, Kuningan, South Jakarta.
“This is the place to get durian that are very tasty but not too expensive,” she said.
Lela, a 40-year-old housewife, and her 13-year-old son have their favorite type of durian.
“We love it very sweet, almost like condensed milk mixed with sugar,” she said.
Durian, or duren to some, has a strong smell that Richard Sterling, author of The Traveling Curmudgeon, described as similar to pigs’ droppings, turpentine and onions, mixed with dirty socks.
Durian lovers will tell you it takes more than one experience to get hooked on the “smell-like-hell-taste-like-heaven” fruit.
But for those with hypertension, it’s best to keep a distance. The alcohol content in the fruit leaves people feeling hot and sweaty after they eat it.
Komeng has been selling durian on Jl. Kalibata since the 1970s. “Unlike other street vendors, we never have any trouble with the public order officers,” he said.
Another durian seller on the street, Hanafi, stays open almost 24 hours a day, to satisfy those late-night durian urges.
“The customers prefer us because we allow you to pick a durian and taste it, and if you don’t like it you can pick another one for free,” he said.
Hanafi has a few tips to help novices pick the best durian. First, if the smell is strong, the fruit is ripe.
“Then cut the stalk. If the color inside is dark yellow, that means the durian is good,” he added.
But another vendor, Parno, 40, said most tips like this were unreliable.
“Good taste is relative. Some like it strong, some prefer mild-tasting durian,” he said.
The sellers along Jl. Kalibata get their fruit from plantations in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan. The fruit is harvested at the plantations throughout the year, so the vendors never run out of durian.
“But the best durian is from Sumatra, with the peak season during the rainy season, usually from the end of the year through May,” Hanafi said.
Vendors along the street charge different prices, usually from between Rp 5,000 and Rp 45,000, but they are open to bargaining.
“We can sell 40 durian a night and bring home Rp 500,000 to Rp 700,000 on weekends. If we have durian leftover, we sell it to ice cream vendors,” Komeng said.
Competition among the vendors is unavoidable, but generally good-humored.
“We compete fairly. Our principle is: What belongs to you will come to you.”
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