If fresh durian is said to smell like putrid flesh, overripe armpits, and fermented gym socks, can you imagine what it smells like fermented? Or what it tastes like?
Fermented durian, or tempoyak, is a traditional condiment in Malaysia and Indonesia often mixed with coconut milk curries or pounded with chilies into a spicy dip. It was developed as a way to both use overripe or poor quality durians and preserve them through the months after durian season.
And it’s actually pretty tasty.
Tempoyak was one of those things I never knew existed, and then I saw everywhere.
The first time I heard of of it we were in Jerentut, the main city near Taman Negara National Forest. We were waiting at the bus station and started chatting with a man about our project, and durian.
“Hey you know they are serving durian tempoyak over there,” he said, pointing across the street at a restaurant. Durian what?
We went to investigate.
|The typical Malay spread|
The restaurant had the typical spread of Malay dishes, a number of fried meats and curries laid out in silver pans that typically sit out until they’re gone.
There’s usually one vegetarian dish, but even that might have chicken flakes tucked into the cracks of the cauliflower. Malaysian food is not, generally speaking, terribly vegetarian friendly.
But on this day we lucked out. Our new friend purchased a small plate of a vegetarian tempoyak curry and insisted we tried it, although with a devilish grin he warned that some people think it’s just a little bit hot.
Little bit my blight-infested durian tree.
|Vegetable Tempoyak Curry|
Rob and I sniffed the thin yellow sauce. It didn’t smell remotely of durian. I took a timid sip. My eyes immediately began to water as the chilies burned the length of my esophagus, settling in my stomach in a volcanic pool.
If there was any durian flavor, my tongue was too numbed out to taste it. Our new friend looked at Rob’s reddening face and laughed.
Although often blended with an ungodly number of chilies, tempoyak isn’t innately spicy. It’s a little bit like sour mayonnaise, and would probably go great on potato salad.
I like it on lettuce.
Like many fermented foods, tempoyak is the result of a class of bacteria called Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), which are the same microscopic beings that give us cheese and yogurt and sauerkraut.
All of which are probiotics, thought to support a healthy immune system and gut flora. It’s likely that tempoyak does too.
Scientists have even isolated a LAB specific to durian, which they’ve named Lactobacillus durianis.
That is such a cool name.
|Tempoyak eaten as a spicy dip with rice and stink bean|
The flavor of tempoyak varies a lot and can be mildly sweet and sour or extremely pungent and bit rank. The same people who like blue cheese are probably the ones making this strong tasting version.
You can alter the flavor by allowing the durian to ferment for different lengths of time and adding different amounts of salt. Less salt makes the tempoyak more sour, while more salt both makes the tempoyak more, well, salty, and allows it to keep for 3-6 months without being refrigerated.
How you make your tempoyak is up to you, but here’s a basic recipe to get you started.
Recipe from http://www.huntersfood.com
- 1 cup durian flesh, mashed, without seeds
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Mix the durian well with salt.
- Seal in an air-tight container and keep at room temperature. It can be consumed after 2 days, or allowed to ferment for as long as 2 weeks, depending on preference.
- Store in the refrigerator for one year, until next durian season!
Like I said, tempoyak was one of those things I barely noticed and then, on this last trip with Jess, we saw it everywhere. You can look forward to more tempoyak tales and recipes in future posts.