Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The nightly TV fare these days is given over to the Olympics, that quadrennial exercise in Citius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger. Also more excessive production values, bigger venues, higher bribes for public officials, and ever more costly in every possible way.

The Games this year are being held in China for the first time. Beijing (and the entire surrounding region) has been given a thorough makeover, the kind of makeover that makes Atlanta’s half-hearted Relocation of the Homeless back in 1996 look downright fuzzy ’n’ warm. All this focus on Beijing reminds me that, despite having traveled extensively in Asia, I never made it to China’s capital city. Guangzhou, yes; Beijing, no. I had a trip in the works back in mid-1989, but a little fracas known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre got in the way.

But all the current publicity about China got me in a mood to reminisce about Asia. Fascinating part of the world.

Even things as prosaic as fruit in the local market can be very different on the other side of the globe. You’ll see all kinds of fruit there that you never will set eyes on here...unless you stumble upon it in an out-of-the-way Asian market. Exotica like the mangosteen, the rambutan (think of an oversize red golf ball with hair)...and the Infamous Durian.

The Infamous Durian

The durian is beloved of people in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand, Malaysia, Sinagapore, and Indonesia. It’s a huge, scary looking fruit, resembling nothing so much as the left half of Godzilla’s nutsack. Inside, the edible part of the fruit is the subject of diverse opinions:

“rich custard highly flavoured with almonds...” (Alfred Russel Wallace)

“like eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory...” (Anthony Burgess)

“your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother...” (Anthony Bourdain)

“its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock...” (Richard Sterling)

As with bananas, with durians there are several regionally-based opinions with respect to the optimum degree of ripeness. In Thailand, minimally ripe durians are the order of the day, while in Indonesia, the fruit is allowed to ripen until it achieves an extreme degree of funkitude...the equivalent of a banana with a completely black skin and a liquefied interior.

In case you’re wondering, I have never sampled the fabled durian. My hosts in Southeast Asia assumed I would loathe it; once learning of it, I never felt the burning urge to seek it out. But all that may change, thanks to the intervention of Fate.

For I received an e-mail today, an e-mail that was followed by an apology, for it had been sent to me by mistake, the sender having inadvertently hit “Send” while our corporate e-mail software was performing an address lookup function. It consisted of a recipe...for Durian Dream Cake.

Durian Dream Cake


300 gm butter
300 gm gula
5 biji telur (buang 1 putih telur)
2 sudu besar fresh milk
¾ cup durian puree
320 gm tepung gandum
1 sudu teh baking powder


Putar butter dengan gula hingga kembang. Masukkan telur satu per satu, pukul dengan high speed sampai kembang. Masukkan durian puree dengan fresh milk, pukul dengan medium speed sampai sebati. Masukkan tepung yang dah dicampur dengan baking powder, sikit-sikit, dalam 5 kali tuang. Masukkan dalam loyang dah bergris, bakar.

[Yeah, I know it’s in (mostly) Bahasa Melayu. I know enough to figure out the ingredients and amounts - sudu besar is a tablespoon, and gula is sugar, f’rinstance - but some of the detailed instructions escape me. Maybe Fiona or Brandon can help us out.]

Until now, I had never considered the durian a proper subject of Cakey Dreams, but surely that is only owing to the wimpitude of my westernized palate. I should embrace the durian...and perhaps, with the help of this recipe, you can too. Whiff a turd? Have a slice of cake? Now you can do both at once!

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