PHOTO: UNSPLASH/PESCE HUANG
A few months into our relationship, I discovered, to my dismay, that my partner is Team Durian.
He, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that I wasn’t. How could an ardent fan of blue cheese, stinky tofu, and nattō hate the smelliest fruit of all?
He thinks durian is exquisite. I think it’s gross. It’s not just about the smell – it’s the texture. The fleshiness, reminiscent of onion swirled with XO-flavoured buttercream, makes me want to drink Listerine straight from the bottle.
Durian might seem like a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but the line between irritating and deal-breaking can feel pretty thin when you have to deal with a stinky fridge for days on end, or – if you’re the one who likes durian – whenever your partner flees the room after your relatives show up with a bundle of mao shan wang.
While my partner has faith that I’ll eventually come around, I’ve been living with a durian-loving housemate for 7 years and have yet to be converted. Maybe it will happen when pigs fly, or when a lightning strike alters my taste buds, or when I lose my sense of taste altogether (he thinks it will happen when I finally taste some “quality durian from JB”, but I beg to differ). In the meantime, if you and your S.O. can’t agree on durian, here are some areas where setting ground rules could help prevent misunderstandings and annoyances.
Bringing durian into the home
How averse is the durian hater’s reaction to the smell – can they tolerate it, or do they get nauseous? This will for sure influence the extent to which you allow durian indoors. Whether your home is durian-free or segregated into durian-free zones, it’s important to agree on the time and place for the King of the Fruits. I don’t stop my housemate from bringing home durian, but she’s nice enough to either eat it on the doorstep or eat it when no one else is around. If I come home unexpectedly or if her friends bring durian over, I usually hide in my room with my trusty Muji diffuser - it’s not personal, but at the same time, no one makes me feel bad for not joining the fun. It’s a compromise that works for us, but I expect it will different if my partner and I get married, because, well, everyone is different.
Keeping durian in the fridge
I can’t stand how durian stinks up the fridge. I once bit into a lovely Japanese chiffon cake, only start gagging because it had been tainted by day-old D24 stuffed into a Styrofoam box. The worst part is that I’d been looking forward to the cake, and now…IT WAS RUINED. Remember that episode of Friends where Ross goes berserk over a sandwich? That’s basically me whenever my post-work snacks kena durian flavour.
It’s one thing when this happens in the office, but the chances of this happening at home are extremely high when you live with someone who loves durian. If you’re the durian lover, make sure you store your leftover durian in airtight containers or wrap the seeds in cling wrap before freezing them. You can also warn your other half before putting durian in the fridge so that he or she can remove any baked goods that might absorb the smell.
Durian parties: to join or not to join?
Even though my friends and partner all know that I detest durian, I can’t help feeling like a bit of a killjoy when they start planning durian parties. During pre-COVID days, I’d sit at the mangosteen and rambutan table with the other durian haters – or I’d just not join – but what happens when we’re chilling in someone’s house, only for one of the guests to show up with durian?
If you’re the one who likes durian, you shouldn’t force your other half to eat it. As a child, I would get nauseous after just a few whiffs of durian, but nowadays – perhaps thanks to prolonged exposure – I can tolerate the smell without experiencing any averse physical reactions. I find it worthwhile to just tahan the smell when I’m with friends or with my partner’s family, so as to not spoil the mood. But if you really can’t take the scent, then let your partner know beforehand so that he or she can act as a buffer if anyone starts teasing you or pressuring you to take just one mouth, lah.
Accepting expensive durian treats from parents and relatives
Within 20 minutes of meeting my partner’s father for the first time, he offered me a homemade mao shan wang durian puff. In any other situation, I would have refused or said something to the effect of “how dare you” but I felt a bit paiseh rejecting someone who might one day become my father-in-law…especially since this was our first meeting.
In a situation like this, your partner can react one of two ways: they can either go into white knight mode and whisk the offending puff out of your hands, or they trollishly watch you succumb to pressure and eat it.
My partner attempted the first, but since my people-pleasing tendencies far outweigh my disdain for the King of the Fruits, I gamely took a small nibble, popping the rest of it into my partner’s gleeful mouth when his dad wasn’t looking.
But while I might have won the battle, I ended up losing the war, because a few weeks later, his cousin brought home a box of Black Gold Durian. This time, my partner skipped to troll mode directly, insisting that this was the Emperor of Fruits, and that if regular durians are McCafe, this one is artisanal espresso. That if I could stomach the most potent version of something I hate, I’d cross a threshold and be able to take all other kinds of durian.
Did I take a bite? Yes. Do I wish I’d found a way to get out of eating durian from the beginning? Also yes. Have I learned how to appreciate durian? No, but through durian, we’ve learned a thing or two about communication. Namely, that if someone who hates durian eats it on not one, but two occasions for you, they're doing it because they love you, not because they're starting to like durian.
Inevitably, there will be other, weightier things where you'll need to sort out your differences. Things like finances, child-rearing, or black versus white chai tow kway. Durian, while stinky, is relatively low-stakes, so treat your opposite stances on it like a training ground for compromise. Today, durian. Tomorrow, whether to share passwords. Next time: BTO versus resale.