leave your inhibitions at the door
Although Ann Arbor is a small-ish Midwestern town, there’s a lot of Asians here due to the university. So while I can’t get a wide selection seafood or a decent bagel here, there are plenty of Asian grocery stores to go around. While I thought that my own swarthy immigrant upbringing would prepare me for just about anything in those stores, going to them is still an adventure.
I was killing time at one of them with the Pieholes and decided to take a flyer on a couple items. The first was durian.
I had never eaten it before, but I’ve certainly heard of it due to its reputation. Durian’s a tropical fruit from Southeast Asia that supposedly has a rich, creamy custard-like consistency with some nutty flavors. But it’s notorious for it’s powerful, nasty smell which has been described as a cross between nasty cheese, rotten onions, and sewage. For some strange reason, my kids wanted to try it and who am I to pass up an opportunity for a good life lesson?
But we weren’t done…
While perusing the bank of glass-doored refrigerators, our eyes were drawn this bright orange monstrosity.
The cooler kind of looked like an aquarium with only one fish among the packages of tofu and noodles. OK, maybe not the best of aquariums… It was a rice cake that was shaped like a goldfish for Chinese New Year, a holiday who’s desk calendar page was torn off several months prior. But hey, it was vacuum-packed. If it being nearly as outdated as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” didn’t stop us, the fact that we had no frickin’ clue what it was or how to cook certainly wouldn’t deter us, either. We just kept on with our mantra – “What’s the worse that could happen?”
The kids were all giggly about the prospects of durian all the way home. They were looking forward to what the reaction of their mother – in all her Teutonic honkiness – would be. Thoughts of leaving some on a neighbor’s front door as a prank also kept popping up.
Until we got home.
They started getting scared. They kept on insisting we (meaning just me) go to the far-end of the backyard to cut it open. Or to a public park – until I reminded them that it’s illegal to possess durian in public transportation in Thailand.
… along with balloons?!!?
We decided to pop it open on our back patio with all our windows sealed tightly. But Mini-me wasn’t taking any chances…
Getting to the actual edible part was an adventure in itself. The spiny exterior hurt like hell when steadying it. Once cut, I had to start pulling it apart and root around with my hands which almost completely repulsed the kids.
I finally got the yellow, fleshy pods out and the sight of it almost completely repulsed ME. It looked like some necessary body parts –
As for the smell… Maybe it was the strong wind blowing past us or the horror stories were a little exaggerated. Or maybe our specimen was older than the rice cake goldfish. It smelled… well, we barely smelled it.
It really did have a creamy texture, very much like a custard and, coming from a fruit, it was a little hard to put our heads around it. Once we got past that little bit of dissonance, it wasn’t a totally unpleasant experience.
I doubt we’ll ever get it again. The sign in the store said $3.99 but, like most of the other signs there, something got lost in translation. It turns out that the “per pound” got omitted and our little dare was a whopping $15. Besides, I’m pretty sure we dodged a bullet with the smell and I wasn’t about to tempt fate.
The Fish Cake
Even though we had no idea what this thing was, we figured we could check out the instructions on the back…
Say what? Do I “Eat Directly”? Or do I “put on oiled pan and fry into a golden colour of two sides”? Or maybe I should “put the pieces into microwaver and heat at high fire”? I finally decided to steam it because I had found a recipe for rice cakes where I can use it like noodles. Besides, the flaming element of my microwaver was on the fritz.
The next question was whether I should cut it up in small sushi-like pieces, fillet it, or leave it whole like a roasted Branzino. I opened up the package and…
It turned out the beautiful goldfish colors were due to creative packaging. The actual fish was an unappetizing ghostly white. Since any hopes of a beautiful presentation were dashed, I just chopped it up and put it in my bamboo steamer.
While steaming, I prepared the sauce that I would use to stir-fry the noodles. Once done, I opened up the top and found this…
A big blob of white goo composed of smaller little blobs of white goo. I couldn’t separate any of it, so there was no way of stir-frying it.
And even if I could stir fry it, it was sugary sweet and not very noodle-like at all. So not only did it ruin my steamer, it ruined dinner plans for the night.
So it turns out that I’m nowhere near as worldly as I thought I was. I think I’ll stay in the more familiar aisles with the bags of rice and bottles of fish sauce.
Have you ever had durian? Any Asian market mishaps of your own?