Everyone who has had durian will know too well that unmistakable scent (often detectable from a distance), the very characteristic appearance of green spikes resembling a furled up hedgehog and the fire that is lit in a durian lovers’ eyes once a good fruit is presented.
Let’s now substitute the fruit “durian” with the bright green edible bean “petai“.
Petai is in its own right, a very unique bean. The pods are large and long, with a slight twist and curl. The beans themselves look quite ordinary. Mildly rubbery, a bit smaller than the average female thumb.
But the smell when it is cooked is intensely pungent and it’s very difficult to describe its taste. Bitter or bitter acidic yet a bit tasteless on its own, it is best combined with other strongly flavoured sauces like sambal (a paste made of fermented shrimp, chilli, garlic, ginger and lime concoction). The sambal petai dish is mind-blowing when cooked well and accompanied with fried fish or deep fried chicken and steaming hot off-the-stove jasmine rice.
Is your mouth watering yet?
Petai, unlike durian, will change your body odour for about one or two days post consumption. Though you may not notice it… your friends might. If you eat enough of it, it’ll also turn your pee a very fluorescent shade of green (similar to my Thai whiskey experience, but we’ll cover that another time).
The effects of petai and the pungent smell notwithstanding, petai is served in many restaurants albeit in small quantities relative to durian. This stink bean has fans and it’s non-fans, people either love eating it and sort of crave it, or refuse to try it at all.
Perhaps it was with this in mind that FAMA decided to replace durian with petai at the promotional food fair Malaysia Fest in Singapore. It can be brought in large quantities, bring in the petai lovers and satisfy some cravings. The pods also look impressive in big bunches so at least it looks good as a takeaway from the event.
Why no Durians Singapore? The smell can be contained with good packaging so I doubt this is the real reason. I suspect it’s probably more to do with husk and waste disposal.