Do You Durian? Eating Exotic Fruit in Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand

One of the aspects of travel I enjoy most is trying new foods, in particular, new fruits and veggies. Just back from Southeast Asia, I’m still dreaming about the amazing tropical fruit and veggies my nephew and I enjoyed while there.

Fruit shakes are delicious and ubiquitous in Thailand. This is a red dragon fruit shake. So beautiful, but to be honest dragon fruit doesn’t have a ton of flavor. Photo by Austin Aune. 
Dragon fruit in white and red. These fruits are so beautiful. Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
A fruit shake vendor prepares my order. You simply choose the combo you want, and in seconds you have a lovely fruit shake. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Let’s be honest, the selection at a lot of stateside grocery stores is predictable and homogenized. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I realized how broad the spectrum of fruits and veggies truly is, and how little of that spectrum actually makes it to our plates here in the States.

At the market in Hanoi, Vietnam, a woman displays veggies for sale. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
When we found an awesome restaurant for bun cha in Hanoi, we ordered the cold coconut to drink with it. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
The warm welcome to our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City included sliced dragon fruit and ice-cold water. So needed and appreciated! Photo by Charish Badzinski.

So as far as I’m concerned, it’s important to really enjoy exotic fruit when you have the chance. And because it was his first trip to the region, my nephew was game to try the bounty, as well.

A fruit vendor in Hanoi sells longan, rambutan, mangosteen, papaya, avocado, custard apples, mangoes, dragon fruit and pomelo. How could anyone resist? Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Dragon fruit and baby pineapples were among the fruit this vendor had on hand the day I bought a selection of fruit at the market in Hoi An, Vietnam. 

Near the top of our list was the notorious durian. Enormous, spiky, smelly durian.

Enormous, spiky, smelly durian. These were on display outside a store in Ho Chi Minh City that specializes in durian. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
A durian specialty store in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

If you’ve never heard of durian, you should know that it is famous for its smelliness which is so pronounced, durian is often not allowed in hotels or on public transportation. Its rather farty scent and flavor is what makes it so polarizing. Some people absolutely hate it. But there are also people who absolutely love it.

BackpackMr and I have tried durian once in the past, but I wanted my nephew to have the experience for himself.

So we ate our way through fields of fruit. At one point I even went to the market before my nephew was awake, and bought a bag full of fruit so that he and I could share it over breakfast.

Exotic fruits I bought at the market in Hoi An, Vietnam: custard apple, rambutan, mangosteen, longan and passion fruit. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

We had several of my favorites: mangosteen, which is small and adorable and has a purplish, fibrous exterior which you peel away to reveal the most beautiful white lobes of fruit. Rambutan, which looks spiky and red from the outside, but holds a white eyeball-like fruit with a seed and longan, with similar fruit but a smooth, brown exterior. Custard apple which is smooth and filled with black seeds, and my absolute favorite fruit the world over: passion fruit. I seriously love the stuff. You wait until the outside is wrinkled looking, which indicates that the fruit is ripe. It’s runny like an egg yolk and peppered with little crunchy, black seeds, and the flavor is unlike any other fruit I’ve ever tried. It is so bizarre and so good. There are a couple of varieties of passion fruit and some are more deliciously tart than others, which makes them great in fruit shakes with another sweeter fruit or a sweetener of some sort.

Breakfast at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City included homemade pho as well as this plate of dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple and passion fruit with a little sugar on top to tame its tartness. So good. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
In Vietnam, green kumquats are often served alongside soup and other dishes. Here it is used to season a dip for noodles and veggies, containing very strong tasting shrimp paste, sugar, chilis and a squeeze of these green kumquats. The dish is called Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm Thịt Luộc. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Hot pot on our last night in Vietnam was served with shaved banana flower, pictured here on top of the plate of veggies. My nephew didn’t care for it, but I enjoyed it. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

But that day at the market, there was no durian to be found. For that, we had to wait until we got to Thailand. In the meantime, I enjoyed more fruit shakes. Oh, and of course, MANGO STICKY RICE!!!!

A delicious mango shake on a recent trip to Southeast Asia. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
A mixed-fruit shake at Archer’s restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Seriously, it is the biggest fruit shake I have ever seen. It comes in a giant mason jar. I loved the custom bamboo straw so much I asked to buy one. Photo by Charish Badzinki.
Mango sticky rice is the quintessential Thai dessert, and it is such a beautiful and scrumptious way to enjoy the amazing mangoes in Thailand. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

At last, after smelling it in trucks that passed on the street, catching a whiff from stores as we walked by in countries all around Southeast Asia, we were ready. We found a durian lobe that was small in portion-size (we didn’t want to buy and waste a bunch of it–we just wanted to try it) and steeled ourselves.

It. Was. Time.

Durian in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Right there, at the market in Chiang Mai, we dove in.

My nephew, Austin, holding the durian we would soon eat, with an appropriate level of fear on his face. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

My nephew was a trooper. I tried to capture both of us on film eating durian, but with no luck.

Trust me, he took a big bite of that stinky flesh and was no worse for the wear. He didn’t mind it.

Trying durian. You can see my nephew took a bit of his. 
Continuing to eat durian. 

And, it was exactly as I remembered. Not horrible. Not awesome. An interesting texture, sort of custardy with stringy bits and a couple of big seeds. The stringy-ness is what doesn’t work for me. The flavor doesn’t bug me a bit. And the smell, well, it’s kind of intriguing to me.

I think I like it?

Come to think of it, I bet durian would be better blended. Perhaps in a fruit shake.


Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

You can read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


2 thoughts on “Do You Durian? Eating Exotic Fruit in Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand

  1. I would live in these countries just to eat all the fruits that are so fresh and plentiful. I see you tried durian. I love it too except the smell. My favorite beside the mango is mangosteen. I love them all. A very informative post. Now I’m hungry for all those fruits too. 😊


    1. I totally agree, the smell of durian can be off-putting. If you can get used to it, which naturally happens if you spend time in SE Asia as you smell it around every bend, it’s a really enjoyable experience.

      I’m partial to passion fruit myself, though I also love mangosteen! It’s all so, so good.


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