In Southeast Asia, the durian is known as the “king of fruits.” It is also banned in most public places because of the smell, which has been described as rotten onions, garlic, turpentine, raw sewage, farts, dead birds, rotten apple juice, and French-kissing your dead grandmother.
That putrid odor has been known to cause people to wait across the street while their friends eagerly consume the spiky tropical fruit. The taste has a much better reputation, favorably compared to caramel or egg cream with a strong hint of almonds by way of a custardy/scrambled eggs texture. Durian is also highly nutritious, not unlike a coconut. But unlike coconut, the Asian fruit is relatively rare in the U.S., and the best place to get it in New York City is Durian NYC, an unassuming stall in Chinatown on the corner of Grand Street and Bowery.
Durian NYC has been open for nearly 20 years, and much of its success can be attributed to its former salesman Jay Fan (“the durian man”), who became famous for his expertise in distinguishing between and preparing different kinds of durian. He carefully cut and packaged the fruit to preserve the aroma (which some people actually like) and he would warn about inferior durian being sold at neighboring fruit stands.
Fan also had quite a few anecdotes about his experience selling durian, like the one about the time someone called the police when Fan refused to give a refund after the person had gotten a whiff of the open fruit. The police arrived and, curious, as so many who approach the durian stand are, ended up buying some for themselves (Fan gave them a discount). One returned the next day to get some for the captain.
Fan has moved on from the stand, but videos of him cutting the durian are still available online. Durian NYC is still going strong, just like the durian itself is still dividing people. They can be expensive, but those who are determined usually find that the experience is worth the cost, and the smell.
Visit New York State with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cache, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.