First time in a Malaysian hotel? Don't bring durian

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2008 04:50 PM | Updated as of May 13 2008 12:50 AM

By ROY MEDINA

abs-cbnNEWS.com

It may have been dubbed the "king fruit" in some places, but in Malaysia, this king has been banished -- at least in hotels.

Hotels in Kuala Lumpur prohibit guests from bringing durian, the fruit described as "tasting like heaven but smelling like hell" into their premises.

Signs in elevators constantly remind guests of the ban.

Anti-durian signs

At least two hotels in downtown KL -- Radius International and Replica Inn -- have signs inside their elevators about this.

"These fruits that emit pungent smell are PROHIBITED in the hotel. Thank you for helping us make REPLICA INN a pleasant place to stay for everyone," says the sign inside Replica's elevator. Aside from durian, this hotel has a ban on jackfruit.

Signs at Radius' elevators, meanwhile, may not be as explanatory as those in Replica's but lest guests forget, they still say the same message: "NO DURIANS."

Durians still sell

The anti-durian sign inside Replica, however, has not prevented vendors from selling the fruit several meters from the hotel along Changkat Bukit Bintang, near KL's central shopping district.

The cart, which sits on the sidewalk, attracts quite a few buyers throughout the day.

And you can't miss the odor. Because as they say, it's distinctively durian.

Malaysian hotels are not alone in the ban.

In Singapore, authorities in the city state's mass rapit transit strictly enforce the ban on smoking, eating, drinking and flammable goods and -- you guessed it -- durians in stations.

'Exquisite, unsurpassed'

While durian is native to Malaysia, neighboring Brunei and Indonesia, it is also grown in the Philippines, particularly in the southern island of Mindanao.

Fruits harvested from Mindanao orchards are sold at markets in major cities but are also shipped to specialty stores in Metro Manila that sell produce from the southern region.

But unlike in Malaysia and Singapore, hotels and major establishments in the Philippines do not ban durian within their premises.

Fruit's smell shocks travel writer

In 2003, travel writer Richard Sterling wrote in "The Traveling Curmudgeon: Irreverent Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes on Dismal Destinations, Excess Baggage, the Full Upright Position, and Other Reasons Not to Go There" about how the durian barged into his senses -- literally -- from yards away.

"... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away," he wrote.

And aside from the existing hotel ban on durian, Sterling wrote that the fruit is also prohibited in subways, airports and public transportation in Southeast Asia.

Praise for the smelly fruit

But while it has become infamous for its odor, the durian also had praises for its "new sensation" from British naturalist Alfred Russel who provided a much-quoted description of the flavor of the durian in "On the Bamboo and Durian of Borneo" in 1856.

"It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed," Russel said.