I was excited the moment I saw the words “Vietnam” printed on the label.
This was in the USA, and the durian was frozen, and it was sitting innocently between two packages of Thai durian pretending that the USA has always had choices when it comes to to durian. As I picked up the package I imagined the Thai durian monopoly crumbling, the enormous lopsided Monthongs falling away in their gold netting to make way for new flavors from other countries.
Then I stopped myself. Did I really want to eat durian imported from Vietnam?
Not to knock Vietnam too hard, but people complaining about the Thais using too many chemicals would be horrified if they read the durian news coming out of Vietnam, which I do.
Many of the clips from Vietnam contain snippets like this:
The Thai workers selected durians and dipped the fruit into unknown chemicals to export to Indonesia and China.
The authorities seized six types of chemicals which were mixed into the solution that durians were dipped into. The chemical samples have been sent to a lab for testing. – Talk Vietnam
Okay, so we can still blame the Thais (the workers in this article were deported back to Thailand).
But what frightens me is the authorities didn’t even know what the chemicals are, and as far as I know that crucial bit of data was never released.
According to the articles, the majority of the infractions seem to come from an area called Dong Nai.
I’ve been to Dong Nai. In fact, Dong Nai is the location of the export factory I visited.
So when I picked up this package of durian I had all these questions and thoughts in my head.
Was it possible I knew the people exporting this durian? Could they tell me anything about where and how this durian was grown?
Curiosity killed the cat, but mine just makes me buy sketchy durians.
Tasting Vietnamese Durian
I read the label before buying, but I still somehow missed the “seedless” part.
Frozen, the durian had been arranged to look like three plump, intact pods. Later, I felt this was a bit tricksy.
Because after thawing the packet in the refrigerator, it looked like this.
The packet’s own weight caused those three delightful-looking pods to fan out and flatten into a homogeneous field of durian smush.
Which at least still looked delicious.
I peeked into the bag, eyeing the creaminess within. I could see the remnants of the flesh’s skin, now ruptured and softened by being frozen.
At least there wasn’t a pool of whitish water at the bottom of the package, as happens with some frozen durian packages. That was a good sign, I thought.
I turned the package over and tipped the durian out onto a plate.
For some reason I was reminded of my school cafeteria, when a lunch lady when haul out an enormous plastic sack of applesauce and glub-glub it into the metal dish.
Maybe it was because I was at home, and these were the same plates I would have eaten off as a child every time I wasn’t at the school cafeteria.
Or maybe it was the complete disaster of a texture. Given the state of the gloop on my plate, I don’t know how they originally formed the durian flesh into the original plump pod-shapes. Maybe some kind of mold?
Looking at the durian on my plate, I felt sorta like this.
Tracking Down the Company
Part of my sketched-outedness was because I couldn’t find anything about the company.
The company, 3-Mien, is a brand name owned by Trans Family Inc. It’s imported through Bell, California. But there isn’t an address or any information for who packed it in Vietnam. When I called the number listed on the trademark website it went to their attorneys, who pretty obviously didn’t think it was worth putting me in touch with their boss.
Most brands of Thai durian have both the name of the US and Thai company (and usually the Thai address) printed right on them. If you go to their websites they have mission statements, lists of associated brands, and licenses and awards with the government.
This lack of transparency, combined with the sketchy news articles and the feeble texture of this durian was making me a grumpy. But then the kicker..
I had to eat this durian with a spoon. WHAT? I know. A spoon.
I’m in the camp who think eating durian with a spoon is mildly heretical, but with this durian there wasn’t much choice.
I suppose I could have eaten it face first, like my family’s sneaky dog. Well, he tried to be sneaky.
|Get out of here, Rudy|
You know what? After all this griping and moaning, it tasted pretty good.
It tasted really ripe, with that almost fizzy, gassy onion tingle that I recognized from really ripe Monthongs, the kind that are already splitting open on their own. The onion aspect of this durian was pretty strong, but the vanilla was there too.
I thought it did taste different than most packages of Thai durian I’ve bought, primarily because it seemed riper. The texture hinted at this too, since it didn’t have any hard, unripe bits floating in the goo.
Sure, the texture was over-soft, but at least it was smooth.
I ate it all. With a spoon. And I didn’t give another single bite to the dog, although he waited hopefully and attempted to be sneaky again.
This package cost $8.99 USD and was purchased at Fubonn Supermarket in Portland, Oregon.
Because it was essentially durian pudding, I’d recommend eating this half-frozen or in something where you want smooth, formless durian; like a salad dressing or in a smoothie. Frozen it would make excellent ice cream.
Or just get over the spoon thing. Spoon durian is good too. Certain heretical people I know (ahem, Q.H.) eat their durian with spoons every time.
It tasted good enough to buy again, but the lack of transparency bothered me too much to buy this brand of durian again. For good or bad, I’ve come to expect the things I buy to have some internet presence. I like being able to Google search my food and find at least some clues to where it came from and who made it. It may be an illusion, but Facebook pages and websites make me at least feel like my durian wasn’t dipped in 6 unidentified chemicals before being popped in the vacuum sealer.
So for now it’s back to big-name, traceable brands for me. Unless there’s no other durian around, in which case; bring on the cocktail.