After our experiences snorkeling with Sila near the sacred island of Menjangan, our guide and host invited us to see a local marketplace in Pejarakan on the way back to our homestay at the House of Hobbit. He rightly thought we might be curious about such a place, and we enjoyed getting to see the kinds of foods locals tended to peruse and purchase for their own home cooking. It was much more like a permanent farmer’s market than a westernized grocery store would be (we did visit one of the latter in Sanur in southern Bali), and seemed to be made up of stalls manned by individuals who had provided those particular goods for sale, with whom you would directly negotiate and pay. We were led through somewhat quickly, but we were still able to get a sense of the wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, grains, and unknown-to-us types of food available there. There were definitely many foods in textures and shapes that we do not see at home, some of which we had the pleasure to experience while in Bali.
Towards the end of the experience, I asked if people would mind if I took a few photos, and upon receiving permission, had a minute or two to capture the following looks into the food-focused section of this local marketplace. (This was one of numerous experiences on our trip where we didn’t pull out the camera quickly (or at all) due to feeling intrusive or voyeuristic if we were to take photos of people’s lives, even if visuals of the people and their daily environments were striking or fascinating to our eyes. At least we got permission here briefly before we left!)
Finally, another interesting food experience we picked up at this market was our very own durian, which Sila helped us pick out. We forgot to take a picture of it, but here are some from the internet of this infamous fruit:
Now, the durian isn’t just infamous for its spikes, although that is the root concept behind its name in the Malay language family. Instead it is dreaded (or celebrated) for its intense smell and flavor. There are many flavor varieties throughout Southeast Asia, with various regions having their own local preferences for how intense a smell/taste they aim for, or for how deeply ripe they prefer the fruit to be before eating. However, the reputation remains the same: the durian isn’t for the faint of heart.
Some people find it to have a pleasantly sweet aroma, and the 19th century British natural Alfred Russel Wallace even described its flesh as “a rich custard highly flavored with almonds” (according to Wikipedia, at least.) Despite that, many who haven’t grown up with it are inclined to equate it with the smell of rot. Common allusions when describing its odor are garbage, rotting onions, or sewage, and the smell can linger in a place for days. As a result, many hotels and public transport options throughout Southeast Asia prohibit bringing even a single durian fruit onto their premises. The first market we visited in Bali, the Hardy’s near the beach in Sanur, had a terrible, sickly, chemical+garbage kind of smell near the front of the store, and in retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if that had come from durians. (At the time, we didn’t yet know what they looked like, and had been too weirded out by the smell to stick around in that area long enough to find out…)
Despite all this, we were curious to try a piece of the infamous fruit, since we were super unlikely to ever encounter it anywhere in our home country, and, well, we just have a lot of curiosity about new experiences. We’d heard that the flavor to eat was more pleasant than the smell, and so we were hopeful that we could find one that we could stomach. Luckily, the durians at this particular marketplace didn’t have too strong of an odor (unlike some we had passed being eaten at street-side stalls elsewhere on our trip), and Sila helped us pick out and negotiate for one of reasonable quality. Once we got back to the House of Hobbit, and settled on the raised/covered eating platform by our cottage, Sila found us a large knife and cracked open our durian for us to eat (its flesh, incidentally, was much paler than the bright yellow in the photo above).
And… it tasted OK! But not really any better than OK. It had a strong, garlic-like flavor, but sweeter with an odd aftertaste, and the texture was akin to overripe bananas or spinach artichoke dip. It sounds worse than it was, but we definitely weren’t too keen on eating the whole thing ourselves. We offered a few pieces to Sila, who ate one but insisted we eat the rest since it was so normal for him and we should have the honor of eating what was left while we had the chance. So we ate the remainder, quasi-regretting it as we did so, although we did appreciate his hospitality and the consideration of his gesture… But it was like the flavor got weirder the more we ate of it, perhaps due to the lingering quality of the odor in our mouths. Regardless, fun experience on the whole, though!
It was worth it to try, but won’t be something we’ll be regularly adding to our diet in the future. We wouldn’t be entirely opposed to testing out some other durian varieties in other parts of Asia, though… just in case.
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