No matter what allusions to hell may be made, I love L.A. I was born here, and even after we moved away I spent every summer avoiding my grandfather’s math lessons by hiding in the orange tree above his study (fruit freak in development!)
Rob and I cruised into L.A. in the beginning of January. I was so excited to be visiting my grandparents (having already shared durian with Rob’s on the other side of the country) AND to go durian hunting in one of the few places in the United States with a real durian fetish. Movie stars, the eccentric and wealthy, and a
diverse ethnic population have created a major durian hotspot. It has a
Chinatown, a Koreatown, a Filipinotown, a Thai Town and a Little Saigon
all bursting with undiscovered durians. So why the hiatus on posts?
Why so few durian adventures in LA?
|LA is beautiful!
A few days before Rob and I gave our presentation at the Fruitluck LA meeting, my grandfather was hospitalized. Sooo, my dreams of wandering the alleys of Thai Town searching for the lady who sells both shoes and fresh durian in the same run-down shop dissolved into a confused series of hospital hallways.
Strangely, Grandpa’s first nurse in the ER was named Dorian. Coincidence?
Once Grandpa came to, we had lots of durian conversations. It turns out something like 88.8% (very roughly) of nurses at his neighborhood Kaiser Permanente are Filipino. Grandpa asked all of them if they had eaten durian. Most took a double-take at hearing the exotic word issuing from the mouth of a 91-year-old Texan. “Have you heard of the durian fruit?”
All had heard of it, but only a handful had actually tasted it. Most were from Luzon, the big northern island that’s always in the news for typhoons. After hearing about our topic of study, they seemed more astounded that Rob and I had visited the island of Mindanao than that we had spent a year tromping around Asia looking for durian.
|Also a great conversation starter: my awesome durian backpack!
Every Filipino nurse warned us that Mindanao was a dangerous place and not very good for western tourists. The sentiment was of startled heartfelt concern, as if we had just survived a fiery circus trick. It made me smile. Rob and I have come to the conclusion that Filipinos, as a general rule, believe everywhere outside of their own stomping grounds to be exceptionally dangerous. Because they are caring, compassionate people, they feel the need to warn you. The Davao-enos warned us about Manila, the Tagum City-ers warned us about Davao City, and just about everyone was cautious visiting just about everywhere else.
It’s sad that Mindanao as an island has such a bad rap for crime. I’ve been there twice, and both times it felt like one of the safest places in Asia. Numbeo seems to agree with my sentiment. It records crime rates in Manila as more than 10 times that of Davao (50.27 vs 4.17). For comparison, LA’s listed crime index is 71.98, which means my most dangerous durian work is actually here in SoCal.
|The perfect Superbowl snack
With the Philippines on the brain, I decided to check out a Filipino Supermarket. Los Angeles has the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines, and plenty of stores specializing in Filipino products. I’d even heard that some stores carry durian from the Philippines, but was having
trouble believing it. As far as I know, the Philippines isn’t exporting
durian yet (although they do ferry some durian to Sabah, Borneo).
I didn’t have time to visit Historic Filipino Town, so I looked up Sea Food City, a West Coast chain. I’ve been in lots of generic Asian Markets, but had never
visited a specialized Filipino store. What would be there? Would they
really have some Filipino durian varieties? Mmmmm, I felt my mouth begin
to water imagining the rosy colored flesh of Puyat, or the pearly grey
cream of Arancillo.
I visited the outlet in North Hills. As I drove up, I could tell this was a different sort of Asian Market, which even in the US tends to look run-down and faded and smells vaguely of cat litter.
This store was a shining Big Box. The store front was new, the sign fresh and clean. I watched as Asian-Americans rolled their shopping carts across the clean parking lot and unloaded the basket into the backs of their shiny SUV’s. I thought about what a contrast this was to shopping in Asia, where the parking lot, if there is one, is stuffed with rows of motorcycles.
The produce department was as sparklingly upscale as Whole Foods. It was actually intimidating, and I had to stop in the entrance and blink to get all that sparkly clean-ness out of my eyes. I might as well have been in a Ralph’s or Vons, except that the intercom was blasting advertisements in Tagalog.
When I had gotten over my initial surprise, I went in search of my prize: the durian. It took me awhile to find it, cruising down the open freezer aisles scanning the various fish-parts for any large round shapes.
I finally spied a
single, vacuum-sealed package of durian, right across the aisle from the Nestle Ice Cream Drumsticks. The sad little bag sat on top of a bag
of frozen rambutan, next to a pile of frozen soursops. I was momentarily
distracted by all the frozen fruits available – I’d never seen
such a diversity of chilled exotica. They had frozen mangosteen,
lychees, longans, duku, langsat, jackfruit, and even a few things I’d
never heard of. Who knew?
The durian, which looked browned and pathetic even inside it’s plastic suction, was not from the Philippines. It was a Thai Monthong, just like what is stocked everywhere else. I guess I’ll just have to go make a trip to Davao City to get my Arancillo fix. Mmmmm, Arancillo.
After nearly a month away, Grandpa came home yesterday. We’re so glad to have him back! But the medical circus is not over. We’re still keeping busy, setting him up with his new medication regimen, follow up doctor’s appointments, and what not. There’s not been time for much else durian besides just eating it.
Grandpa, by the way, refuses to try the durian. “When you’re 91 years old, there are some things you can miss,” he told me. “Besides, I plan on being 92.”