Snack Critic: Durian and Seaweed are an Oddly Delicious CombinationSeptember 3, 2017
- Patricia BaesWords
Durian, with its signature onion-y stink, is one notoriously polarizing specimen—but it at least wins over a fair amount of hearts when presented as dessert, e.g. as an ice cream flavor or when turned into candy. Less frequent of a sight, though, is durian in savory applications, likely given its already-stigmatized reputation plus the relative unusualness of infusing savory meals with fruit. We’ve tried it once and loved it, but the sight of a peculiar box in the grocery aisle still had us scratching our heads: a snack coming that pairs durian with seaweed, of all things. What in the world would it taste like?
Hailing from Thai brand Seleco, the said snack is a variation on the brand’s “Rolling Bite” snack line, which features thin sheets of roasted, seasoned seaweed rolled up in a cylinder as the name implies. These are no flimsy Japanese-style nori; the caramelization that results from the sweetish seasoning’s exposure to heat during the roasting process combined with the thinness of each sheet and its curled-up form renders each bite decidedly crunchy—and it satisfies to a degree we’d compare to kettle-cooked potato chips, sans the oiliness. In this particular durian-flavored variant, you’ll find the roll’s inner surface studded with what seem to be crushed-up bits of durian chips (listed in the ingredients as “crispy durian”).
Pairing seaweed with durian, as it turns out, isn’t as completely novel a concept as we thought it’d be. But it is uncommon in these parts, and not something we’d instinctively think to do, which is why we were skeptical these would taste even remotely edible—even the author, who happens to be the sole durian believer of the team, wasn’t entirely convinced. But alas, it works, and in the most surprising way possible.
It’s the sweetness from both the seaweed and the durian serves to bridge the two components despite initially seeming to be worlds apart. From there it’s a complex eruption of flavor that initially travels through different directions: the seaweed carries its familiar sweet, umami soy sauce taste which releases its saline, fishy-tasting essence as you chew, only to be work in characteristic savory-pungent taste of the so-called “King of fruit” whose onion-y notes surprisingly taste great with the fishiness of the seaweed. The seaweed’s light but crisp texture makes for a shattering bite, boosted by the equally-crisp and crackly bits of durian. More surprising is a mild creaminess, likely taking after durian’s natural custardy character, that hums in the backdrop. It pairs surprisingly well with the soy, working in a way similar to how soy melds with ingredients like egg yolks or butter. And it extends its reach, cradling all other flavors and helping tie their different personalities together.
Durian haters beware: yes, you do smell and taste the durian—to a tolerable degree as you crunch, but with enough of a built-up potency that it can taint any succeeding post-munching burps. And while it’s the sweetness and creaminess it contributes that’s the star of the show, the otherwise-savory nature of the snack tends to highlight the durian’s characteristic funk. But clear your mind of any preconceptions and give it a chance, and you’ve got one mighty tasty snack awaiting within each wrapper. If anything, this snack proves the durian’s oft-overlooked versatility, pairing well with flavors you’d typically associate with East Asia. Don’t be surprised if you end up finishing the entire box in one go.