Sunday, April 7, 2019

Vilifying the Durian and the Jackfruit

In February this year, London-based chocolatier Paul A Young created a chocolate box to highlight the prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK. 

The box, created in partnership with Woman’s Trust, a charity that provides free counselling and therapy for female survivors of domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and other forms of domestic abuse, contains three salted caramel chocolates, and one “chocolat dégoûtant,” described as having a “vomit-like taste”. 

That taste, it was explained, comes from the durian (left): a Southeast Asian fruit, which had been made into chocolates – for pleasurable consumption – for decades in Malaysia, for example, and is truly savored for its sweet-heavenly taste and custardy texture. 

Young reportedly said: “Chocolate is associated with luxurious, indulgent and pleasurable experiences which leave you wanting more. By contrast, the durian, like domestic abuse, stays with you long after your first encounter, so it seemed like a perfect way to illustrate the heart-breaking experience of so many women and raise awareness of a cause I feel passionate about”. 

The campaign, meanwhile, described it as “the world’s worst-tasting fruit” which is both unfair and uncalled for. 

And why must this idiot denigrate another culture’s indulgence and prizing of an enormously enjoyable fruit? Stop it! 

Young tried to explain this deliberate insult to use the durian – he supposedly said: “We chose durian for this project for its polarising nature and because it was essential to provoke a reaction from those who eat it – we wanted to start a conversation about a cause that is incredibly important. I tested numerous versions of a fourth chocolate, one of which was incredibly spicy, and another that was too salty to eat, but the one that got the biggest reaction was the durian”. 

That doesn’t work with me, you dumbass! 

Globalization has introduced the world to unusual fruits like the durian and the jackfruit (we call it “nangka” here in Malaysia). 

Jackfruit (left) is another amazing fruit and a versatile source of nourishment. Increasingly, it is being used as a meat substitute by vegans in Britain – which is fine. 

But don’t mock it. As what columnist Zoe Williams did. 

Just last week, British newspaper The Guardian chose to publish her piece which happily eviscerated the jackfruit (Scientific name Artocarpus heterophyllus) as a “spectacularly ugly, smelly… pest-plant” which people consumed “only if they had nothing better to eat”. 

Predictably, her rude comments soon caused an uproar online, with keyboard warriors from across Asia rallying to defend their favorite tropical fruit. 

Mine too, if I may add. Especially, eating it ripe. 

The fruit figures prominently in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines. Jackfruit stewed in coconut milk, or “gudeg”, is a popular traditional Javanese dish.

Image credit:

“This is what food writers of colour are up against. If I wanted to write about Keralan jackfruit dumplings steamed in fresh bay leaves, most editors would reject it – ‘too niche’. Yet this breathtakingly lazy, ignorant, and embarrassing nonsense gets published”, said London-based food writer Sejal Sukhadwala on Twitter.

Chakka Pal Kozhukattai is rice dumplings dipped in a sweet jackfruit coconut milk porridge. A delicious breakfast option. Image credit: Archana’s Kitchen 

Chakka Varattiyathu Ari Payasam is a quintessential part of Kerala cuisine in India. A dessert that is prepared by using ripe jackfruit and then simmered in jaggery and milk. Image credit: Archana’s Kitchen

“Food should be the easiest thing to write about with respect, especially now that journalists have the bounty of the internet literally at their fingertips”, said writer Pooja Pillai, also on Twitter.The Guardian writer encountered jackfruit as a vegan trend taking over the Western world and I can only pity her, I guess, because she remains unaware of the silky sweetness of ripe jackfruit”. 

Garima Arora, chef of Michelin-starred Bangkok restaurant Gaa uses jackfruit in her dishes to play on diners’ nostalgia as a reference point in the meal. “The jackfruit in Thailand is always eaten ripe, and in India it’s always eaten unripe”, she said. 

“My mum actually always used to describe it as chicken, and the fruit is so high in umami, you don’t miss the meat. Within the same course, you have two separate ideas of what the same food should be, and it surprises you”. 

And in a post titled “With Jackfruit We Stand” on media platform The Better India, Lekshmi Priya S wrote, “Hating a fruit without really knowing its virtues or versatility, or the culture it has intrinsically woven itself into only seems to indicate one has yet a lot to learn”. 

Well-said. Stop ridiculing my favorite fruits, whether the durian and/or the jackfruit. LEAVE THEM ALONE, PLEASE!

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