Durian is affectionately called the King of Fruit throughout Southeast Asia. With it’s size, bristly appearance, and fanatic following, it’s an appropriate nickname. But like in any empire, there is more than one claim to the throne. The Aztecs once hailed the avocado as King. In India, the mango reigns supreme. To find out which fruit deserves the crown, Rob and I traveled to the International Mango Festival in Delhi. Our verdict is in, and here’s why.
5. Durian Has a Crown
It’s obvious, isn’t it? Durian physically has a crown, a ring of thorns encircling it’s mighty stem. Durians are even graced with multiple kinds of crowns, ranging from the Burger King style jagged triangles to a simple, sophisticated band.
Mango has no crown. Neither does avocado. No crown, no kingdom.
4. More Countries Call Durian King
Although guacamole continues to be one of the world’s best foods, the Aztecs and their avocado worship are long gone. Only India and Pakistan hail the Mango as King of Fruit, even though mangoes are widely grown all over the world. In regions with long exposure to both mango and durian, like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, the people still give the title of King to the durian and not the mango.
In Southeast Asia, mango doesn’t even rank in the fruit royal court – the mangosteen is queen. And avocados tend to suck when grown in Asia. Nobody would give them a place even as court jester.
Sure, the population calling mango “king” might be larger than the population of all countries in Southeast Asia combined, but the majority of people in India have never tasted durian and have no idea what they’re missing, while everyone in Southeast Asia eats mangoes all the time and still don’t think mango is worth swearing fealty to.
3. Durian Kills People
Which king in history doesn’t have a legacy of murder? All the best and most notorious – Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Charlemagne – spent their careers lobbing off heads, conducting wars, and watching people get eaten by bears just for fun.
Yes, the mango-loving Emperor Akbar managed to wipe out 5% of the world’s population at the same time as establishing an orchard with 100,000 mango trees, but that says more about the schizophrenic nature of scholar-warriors than to the fierceness of the mango. Mangoes are on the whole, pretty docile fruits. When I visited a mango orchard in Uttar Pradesh, I was not afraid.
Durians, on the other hand, kills people kills people every year.
2. The Favorite Fruit of the King of the Jungle
Durian has also been called the steak of fruit, and it must be because
carnivores love it. Jungle cats of all sizes go wild when they get a
whiff of durian, but all must forfeit their prize to the King of the
Jungle – the tiger.
Tigers have a long and mystical reign in Asian
mythology as protectors of the jungle. They are the symbol of unlimited power, ferocity, beauty, grace, and dignity. Just like our durian, the tiger is a harmony of opposites. Bewitchingly beautiful, yet sinister and 100% lethal.
In one version of an Indonesian legend, the tiger and man are vegetarian brothers who eat durian together until the man accidentally cuts himself while opening the durian. The tiger gets his first taste of blood and becomes a carnivore, but retains a penchant for durian.
Tigers have mostly been wiped out in Asia, but to this day Sumatran durian farmers complain that tigers begin showing up in number to wander their durian orchards during the season, making it dangerous to collect the fruit.
All hail the alluring, bewitching, and dangerous Kings.
1. Durian Is Just More Awesome.
Guacamole is a contender for my top 5 favorite foods, and after our experiences in India I definitely have a greater respect for mango and it’s 1200 varieties. But let’s admit it: Durian is just better.
A good mango is an aromatic explosion of juice-encapsulating butter, a heady perfume of jasmine and sugar. A good avocado is like a green gourmet gouda, sophisticated, comforting and rich.
Yet neither can hold a candle to a good durian. And I mean a good durian – the ones whose aroma leads neighbors to fight over a fruit fallen in the yard or men to stab each other over $2. An aroma that fills the soul with a crazed desire.
For no other fruit do people sit in dark orchards, swatting mosquitoes and waiting with intense anticipation.
A good durian is the daintiest French delicacy, nature’s perfect cream encased in a sturdy shell. A good durian is the richest, smoothest chocolate, wet, shining and rippling in the pan. It’s the perfect glass of full-bodied wine in sunlight, vanilla ice cream, tres leches cake, caramel, and coffee truffles.
A good durian has so many undertones, overtones and intricately bound flavors that with each bite you still need more and more.
It’s a big planet, and fortunately there is more than enough room for more than one King of Fruit. Avocado, mango and durian can semi-peacefully co-exist, although I think we can expect mild skirmishing over border control, especially as durian begins to catch hold in Southern India.
After all, even Genghis Khan met his match in the rival Holy Roman Empire, who never managed to snatch the Holy Land from the Byzantines. But who ‘s more bad ass? Genghis Khan or some guys whose names are only known by history buffs?
I will always have a love and respect of mangoes and avocados. They are really wonderful. But neither will ever defeat the true King of Fruit – the durian.
So in the epic battle of mango vs durian, who wins?