Of Burritos and Durians...... by Faiz Al-Najdi SignUp

Of Burritos and Durians......
Faiz Al-Najdi Bookmark and Share

Recently Kim Kardashian was involved in a story that trotted the globe in seconds. As per the story in the National Enquirer, the reality starlet recently caused a big stink when she boarded a flight at Los Angeles LAX airport. How? Well, she was carrying a just-purchased giant Burrito that smelled as odiferous as a Mexican bean factory.

The supermarket tabloid got hold of this story and immediately leaked out to the public adding sugar and spices to it. It claimed the passengers were upset and many barked & complained about the putrid smell. Some even called in the stewardess and enquired about the source of the stink. Reports suggest Kim admitted she had taken Burrito aboard as she was starving and had to have something to eat. She agreed it smelled terrible and had a flight attendant dispose of it. After the Burrito was tossed, the Enquirer said Kim’s fellow fliers thanked her and quickly cranked their air ducts on full-blast and were finally breathing easy a half hour later. But hey, wait a second; just about what Burrito is?
Well, a Burrito is a typical Mexican food. And, as researched from Wikipedia, it consists of flour Tortilla wrapped or folded around a filling. In Mexico, refried beans, Mexican rice, or meat are usually the only fillings and the Tortilla is smaller in size. In the United States, however, fillings generally include a combination of ingredients such as Mexican rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, meat, avocado, cheese, and sour cream, and the size varies, with some burritos considerably larger than their Mexican counterparts.

The word burrito means "little donkey" in Spanish, coming from Burro, which means "donkey". The name burrito possibly derives from the appearance of a rolled up wheat Tortilla, which vaguely resembles the ear of its namesake animal, or from bedrolls and packs that donkeys carried. It is however a fact that although Burrito tastes yummy but releases foul smells which is often unbearable for many. It is believed that all of the ingredients of the fillings have got to do with these stinky smells.
Frankly, when I first read about this story, some old memories about my days in Bangkok-Thailand immediately made a flash-back. I lived in Bangkok-Thailand pursuing my masters degree in structural engineering at the AIT (Asian Institute of Technology) – a World renowned graduate school – during August 1980 thru April 1982. This was my first international exposure – a good and memorable one, of course. In the beginning we had to go through numerous cultural shocks especially vis-à-vis food.
I still vividly remember our first day or rather first morning at AIT and that too inside the Cafeteria. The first encounter with the odd smell of the foods at the counters was unique. Rice, fish and noodles with egg tops, crab soups, etc were being served as breakfast and the hall was full of unpleasant smells from these foods. I personally have never eaten rice as breakfast. I am used to taking Parathas or Roti with fried or scrambled eggs and bhajis (potato-vegs) or slice of bread with omelets and bhajis, etc. The site of Thais, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and the Japanese eating rice as breakfast was very odd but thrilling and interesting as well. Me and my friends were however relieved to find out that the sliced breads and scrambled eggs were also available at the Western counter. So, we immediately bee-lined holding our trays and grabbed our share of sliced breads, scrambled eggs and a glass of milk.

During the course of chit-chat while eating our breakfast some startling revelations were made by one senior student. He reminded us, to our utter shock that the sliced breads that we were eating were not the usual kind that we get to eat back home. That is, they were made from rice instead of wheat. This was, however, not the end. Some body also informed that the milk that we were drinking was not from cow; it was Soya bean milk, instead. Wow, what a big and pleasant surprise that was, for all of us FOBs – that is, fresh-on-board!! The greatest shock of the food-smell came to us when we first entered our Cafeteria for afternoon tea and snack.

I still remember our mid-term exams were in progress for the first term. After one such exam that went past the lunch time we had to go to the Cafeteria for some quick snacks and tea. Me and my friend Adeel (who has now passed away) entered the Cafeteria, grabbed a sandwich and tea and looked for a quiet place to sit down. Suddenly Adeel noticed Alan (a Filipino friend of ours) sitting with few of his Filipina friends on a table in a corner. Alan waved at us and there we go. We joined him and after few exchanges of pleasantries we settled down to gulp some morsel down our throat. I suddenly noticed some foul and stinking smell emanating from the fruit that one of the Filipinas was happily enjoying. Gradually this smell was getting unbearable and I noticed Adeel was also visibly uncomfortable with the same. For me at least the smell was getting both painful and nauseating. I almost reached to a point where I was about to puke. However, on the other hand, to my big surprise, both Alan and the girls around were perfectly at ease.

That day I learnt that the fruit the Filipina was eating was called Durian. I still remember during that evening and many evenings that followed, Durian remained at the top of our discussion agenda. Alan informed, in fact educated, us on Durian. We learnt that Durian was known as the King of fruits in many South East Asian countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and several other neighboring countries. Durian comes in different sizes, however generally it is of the size of a rugby ball and is covered with thick spikes. Inside is an oozing, jelly-like fruit that has an awful smell. Seriously, it is hard to get past the smell and the smell and the after-taste can linger for hours together. It is often giddily said that it is like eating ice cream or strawberry in a toilet. British novelist Anthony Burgess writes that eating Durian is “like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory”. Chef Andrew Zimmern compares the taste to “completely rotten, mushy onions”. Anthony Bourdain, a lover of Durian, relates his encounter with the fruit as thus: “Its taste can only be described as….indescribable, something you will either love or despise….Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-Kissing your dead grandmother.” Travel and food writer Richard Sterling says: “…its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in South Asia.” Durian’s stinking and putrid smell has prompted Singapore to make Durian illegal in public transport and hotels. It is also banned in Singapore airlines and many other airlines have also followed suit. In fact today Durian is a fruit that you either love or hate.

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