As with most of these things, de' Conti's account of the durian is brief but accurate.
Fructum uiridem habent nomine durianum, magnitudine cucumeris, in quo sunt quinque ueluti mala arancia oblonga, uarii saporis, instar butiri coagulati. (lines 140-143)'They have a green fruit the size of a watermelon called a durian, in which there are five oblong fruits the size of a sweet orange, [with a] varied flavour, resembling coagulated butter.'
|Durio zibethinus, the common kind of durian. Drawn by Hoola van Nooten, c. 1863, apparently.|
This pulp [de' Conti's oblong orange-sized fruits] is the eatable part, and its consistency and flavour are indescribable. A rich butter-like custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness to the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid, nor sweet, nor juicy, yet one feels the want of none of these qualities, for it is perfect as it is. It produces no nausea or bad effect and the more you eat the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact to eat durians is a new sensation, worth a voyage to the East to experience.There's actually much more to Wallace's description - he devotes nearly two pages of The Malay Archipelago to the fruit and also wrote about it in a letter to a friend - but that part corresponds best to what de' Conti was saying.
I have to say, I don't particularly like durian. I don't really dislike it, but I can't say it's my favourite or claim it as a Malayo-phile badge of honour. On the other hand, I've never had it, as Wallace did, straight from the tree - I've only ever had it in restaurants and at markets. Perhaps the pungent scent of old socks has yet to appear when the fruit has just fallen. I suppose it also depends on which species or varietal of durian you're eating.
|Two clearly distinguishable varieties of durian. h/t Yun Huang Yong.|
And perhaps I'm a little strange, but I don't like sweet dessert bananas very much. I can eat them without nausea, but they just feel wrong to me: my tasting-brain tells me bananas should have a savoury flavour. That's okay, because some of them do.