"...the single most tired Southeast Asian cliche"
June 25, 2020 10:11 PM   Subscribe

In response to this rather tasteless NYT piece on 'Southeast Asian' fruits (that among other things, compared the rambutan fruit to resembling the coronavirus), Twitter user @amirulruslan breaks down and documents the history of western media (NYT in particular) trafficking in racist cliche about Southeast Asia through its food coverage. [threadreader link]

James Beard Award winner Osayi Endolyn also provided a close reading in their IG story, for more US-centric audiences.

Other serious twitter conversations have been happening, but let's enjoy this unofficial 'write about American food the way NYT does Asian food' challenge, sparked by @speechleyish's tweet: In a nation torn by racial conflict, one unlikely food unites. To those accustomed to chopsticks, the greasy parcel known as a 'burger', a sort of split bao, is crude and messy. Yet it encapsulates a nation's violent past.
posted by cendawanita (56 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sharing some of my favourite tweets from that challenge (more if you look at the RTs as well):

- @Shion963: One time I had this burger with fried fish instead of beef, and there was an exquisite white, chunky sauce instead of ketchup.

It went amazingly well with the fish fritter and chopped vegetables!

I tried asking of the locals but they all just bade me farewell, like "ta-ta"


- @liz545: Their popularity is matched only by the 'hot dog' (imagine lap cheong poached in alcohol). The name is deceptive - they're actually pork based - and through a range of quaint toppings they function as both a signifier of regional identity and of sporting allegiance.

- @rchen: Chief among foreign foods taken as American, 'pizza' is a large shaobing topped with sugary puree of tomato fruit, fermented dairy, and a curious melange of meats and vegetables. Locals are united in their affection for this snack, even if toppings are as dissonant as themselves.

- @thealmostbear: Amongst the most divisive of American vegetable preserves is that of brine-pickled western cabbage, adapted from a German style of kimchi but missing the familiar hot pepper and deep seasoning. They even use an exotic name to describe this dish: Sauerkraut.

- @poisedfailure: Peaches, long revered in China for their vitality and succulent sweet flesh, have found their way into Western grocery stores and the hearts and minds of Georgians, following the long-standing tradition of taking foreign goods as American, despite their feral beginnings. Americans, having suppressed knowledge of indigenous fruit through brutal genocidal tactics, prefer the bounty of China: oranges, gooseberry, plums, apricots, and chestnuts. Apples, originating from Kazakstan, has also captured their imagination.

- @RogertheGS:"A stinky favorite thanks to the European biological quirk of easily digesting animal milk, the fermented dairy tofu known as "cheese" isn't always putrid and mold-encrusted. The riper varieties, though, can be smelled through several layers of plastic."

- @joejps84: One can here the echoes of a communal, agrarian past in the traditional after-course of "pie". Strangely reminiscent of a bloated mooncake, these are stuffed with a rustic apple filling and crafted to nurture a whole family in the cold winter months.
So beloved is this dish it is the focus of many folk legends. These range from "Uncle Sam", a narrative personification of the bold, rugged US self image, all the way to the baser tales of "Jim" and his bawdy amorous exploits


- @gaurvavsabnis: Only a small percentage of the population has mastered the simple skill of using chopsticks, and that too under influence from Asian gourmands. The primary tool of eating remains the primitive fork, perhaps better suited to their motor capacities.
posted by cendawanita at 10:24 PM on June 25 [122 favorites]


From casual antiquated Orientalist exoticism to excitingly renewed demands to use the military against racial justice protestors, the NYT offers a full and frank set of opinions.
posted by jaduncan at 10:49 PM on June 25 [27 favorites]


Strangely reminiscent of a bloated mooncake, these are stuffed with a rustic apple filling and crafted to nurture a whole family in the cold winter months.

I would read a whole book of these. They are all so good.
posted by Not A Thing at 11:00 PM on June 25 [18 favorites]


"At first glance the elongated, frankly phallic shape suggests a ready snack, but the eager consumer soon discovers the corn oblong's oily, sticky coating of powdered milk ferment -- in the same bright orange traditionally worn by the culture's hunters -- has transferred wholesale to their fingertips, and subsequently anything the eater touches, rendering it impossible to cleanly transact modern business via keyboard or smartphone touchscreen."
posted by taquito sunrise at 11:32 PM on June 25 [14 favorites]


I've always liked dragonfruit, or at least what passes for it in Canada, but the one time visiting relatives in Hong Kong I was served some peak freshness, red-flesh varietal dragonfruit (and also had it with actually ripe papaya), I was quite blown away. It was juicy and fragrant, mildly sweet, not sour, nor bland or vegetal tasting. That day I learned what good dragonfruit can taste like.
posted by polymodus at 12:15 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


Well that NY Times article provides a model of how to be more racist than I would have thought possible when writing about something as mundane as fruit. Seriously I can totally see myself using this for sources of examples when teaching about style, lexical choice, analogies, and perspective, and what they encode.
posted by lollusc at 12:33 AM on June 26 [22 favorites]


The really wild thing about dragonfruit is that it's actually native to the Americas, and yet Americans more or less universally regard them as "exotic"
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:00 AM on June 26 [12 favorites]


I have a dragon fruit tangent. Occasionally at my work we sell dragon fruit plants. They make pretty decent indoor cacti- as long as you're not expecting to get fruit from them in our climate. ("our" being the Bay area) Nice ornamental. The problem is- some brain trust at work kept moving them outdoors to the edible section- because IDK "they're dragon fruit those are edible, they should be with the veggies!" The logic of which I will leave you to parse. The real problem is- the indoor plants are easier to scan for theft- whereas one or two lone dragon fruit plants scattered among the veggies are very easy to steal, and for a while we kept finding the pots of the dragon fruit plants sans plant because some enterprising folks balked at the high price tag on a 6" dragon fruit plant (cacti are expensive) and IDK thought they'd pocket the plant? This went on for a while until a smarter person (not me- I wanted them back inside) put them by the other succulents and cacti (also outdoors) - where we also found them constantly stolen. Now we stopped ordering ornamental dragon fruits. Which makes sense honestly- they're expensive and they don't sell as ornamentals. Somewhere in SF there is a dragon fruit thief(s) with quite a stash. I hope if they wanted fruit they have a specialized heated greenhouse because otherwise that's not what's happening.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:25 AM on June 26 [11 favorites]


They call the rambutan "yummy", after comparing it to coronavirus. The whole article is a pile of bullshit but I am furious on behalf of the rambutan, arguably my favorite fruit and in my opinion (formed by snacking on both whenever available) superior to the lychee in every way - "yummier", prettier (virus my ass), a little easier to eat and more memorable.

The history of fruit cultivation is a fantastic way to learn about the world, different cultures, current politics and scientific advancements. It's one of my favorite topics and you can get started learning about it by visiting a greengrocer. I don't understand how a journalist can have such a fantastic opportunity and experience so much bounty and come away not bursting with curiosity and fascination with agricultural nuance but instead churn out the baldly racist myopic dribbles of that article.

I would like a coffeetable book of that brilliant twitter thread please. With lavishly cliche food photography.
posted by Mizu at 1:29 AM on June 26 [17 favorites]


I am furious on behalf of the rambutan, arguably my favorite fruit and in my opinion (formed by snacking on both whenever available) superior to the lychee in every way - "yummier", prettier (virus my ass), a little easier to eat and more memorable.

This is how I feel about longans, which I snack on basically constantly at the computer & it's fine. Sometimes you get a little juice on your fingers but no worse than an orange.

Funnily enough I read this article (the cringey exotifying NYT one) while eating pomegranate seeds; now THERE'S a "high grapple" fruit
posted by taquito sunrise at 1:52 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]


oh goodness yes the pomegranate has a pretty bad ratio of effort to payoff, unlike, say, the dragonfruit (low effort/low payoff) and the pineapple (high effort/high payoff)
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:07 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


The history of fruit cultivation is a fantastic way to learn about the world, different cultures, current politics and scientific advancements.

Are there any good books for general readers about this? I’d love to read a FPP series on this theme if anyone feels up to it.
posted by Concordia at 2:16 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


No, pomegranates are easy! The secret is to break them apart in a bowl of water. Then the seeds just sink to the bottom and the husks float, so you can scoop that away and drain the seeds off. It took longer to describe than it does to do. It's way more work to peel an orange. (Which is my go-to example of a fruit that's more effort than the sticky fingers are worth).
posted by lollusc at 2:17 AM on June 26 [16 favorites]


I don't know. It's hard to describe things in a way that is informative but not boring. I think the author was trying to be vivid but veered to overly exoticising things. This blowback has elements of class issues as some people might not have cultural reference points for some of these fruits and the author was trying to write an entertaining piece. Not everyone lives in a part of the world where they have access to an Asian grocery store, or have the means to travel, or live in a culturally diverse community. It's fun to poke fun at, and I think we can have all agree that describing a hot dog without common reference points is pretty funny. This is a classic trope that has been lampooned forever. Humanity is a team effort.

I lived in Bangkok for 5 years and rural Thailand for an additional 5. I have 2 observations:

1. We had hundreds of banana trees around our yard and village. There were at least 5-6 varieties that we had access to, more or less year round. This site has a decent overview. Whenever I cut down a bunch of bananas I always thought about that ridiculous Kirk Cameron video where Ray Comfort states that banana's prove intelligent design because they have 5 ridges that fit your hand, and a perfect tab for pulling and some other nonsensical, patently silly points.

Probably 20 percent of the varieties in our yard were nigh inedible. They had big, chunky seeds in them and coarse peels and sometimes never lost their astringent flavors. This was more than offset by the other 80% of bananas which were delicious. As the link above explains, Thais have specific varieties that they recognize: egg bananas, fragrant bananas, sweet bananas, buffalo bananas. (Might be mistranslating the last one.) That being said, we had varieties that the locals didn't have words for. They were just semi feral bananas. I'm sure some banana specialist could identify them, but they didn't have a common/lay codification.

Ray Comfort's video reveals such a deep, deep ignorance of the world around him. Somebody would have to have such a simplified world view to think that there was some platonic banana and this banana was an eternal archetype unchanged across time and space.

Also, bananas can be used differently than we perceive. I could never get used to the way our friends would garnish their dishes with banana flowers/pistils. They were astringic to the point of being uncomfortable to eat. Like licking a bar of antiperspirant. It's a flavor I could never wrap my brain around. (Similarly, using corn/maize as a dessert only ingredient makes sense from a flavor standpoint, but is culturally a tough one.)

Also, regional variations did not always travel far. We had load of fruits that nobody outside of our valley had heard of. I brought bushels of these sour longan-looking segmented fruit to my Thai friends in larger cities and they were baffled by them. The foods of region in Thailand are considered disgusting or exotic in other regions. There is a huge class element in what people do and don't eat in Thailand. A lot of Bangkok Thais won't eat Isaan or Lanna cuisine or spices that are perceived to be too 'muslim'.

2. This is not unique to people's conception SE Asian fruit. People are so isolated from food production that their understanding of how fruit and vegetables work can be baffling to people who grew up in the countryside. (This might not map over parts of the rural American experience as a lot of rural areas are part of monoculture production which might not have old fruit trees that have been growing since time immemorial.)

My inlaws have a farm in Scotland with an apple orchard. They grow a mix of cooking and eating apples of indeterminate breed. Some years they allow people to try using the fruit press so they can drink some fresh juice. People come from larger cities and they're sometimes too scared to try the fresh juice because they perceive it as dirty since it didn't come from a supermarket.

Similarly, we've got all sort of fruit in the area that isn't efficient enough to make it to the supermarket. We've got juneberry trees, elder bushes, hawthornes, tea crab apples, teeny tiny cherries that I don't have a name for, miniature sour plums, something my friend calls dog apples but I haven't been able to find on the internet, the list goes on. The only way I can describe them is by saying things like '"they're similar to x, but much yier".

A lot of these trees were consciously planted generations again but nobody picks them anymore. I was picking some small cherries next to a sports field this morning and somebody told me that they always assumed the fruits were poisonous. It's a safe bet to err on the side of caution on these things but it's crazy that we're surrounded by edible fruit that we don't even register, or variations of supermarket examples that seem strange or unpleasant in comparison.

Anyways, my point is that anything can seem exotic, especially if it hasn't been assimilated into common commercial food production and hasn't been commodified. It's not anybody's fault on an individual level, but we live in a system where people are separated from their food. For most people it's not something that could be changed even with a conscious effort, it's just the world we live in.
posted by Telf at 3:19 AM on June 26 [61 favorites]


Durians were exotic to the mainland Chinese too, at one point, but it seems to me they've embraced the fruit (to the point where SEAsian durian farms have had to ramp up production to meet burgeoning Chinese demand). Meanwhile, American media insists on using the same, often off-putting, tropes to describe it and other similar fruits, so there's no real reason why Americans would even want to try these fruits, much less like them.

It's hard to describe things in a way that is informative but not boring.

True enough, but the comparisons don't have to seem so carefully calculated to turn people off the fruits. I mean, coronavirus rambutans? Even if the author concedes that they're yummy later, the image sticks.
posted by satoshi at 4:34 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


I am always amazed at what people have decided to consider edible. I mean, something like a pineapple, which looks like an overgrown handgrenade or globe artichokes, which are related to, and look just like thistles - who was brave enough to go, "You know what - I'm going to try and eat one of those."
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 4:57 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


The "strange fruit" question being more than thoroughly answered, I'd like to point out this bit of hackery, right up top:

This is peak fruit season in Thailand, when the rising mercury concentrates the sugars in the tropical bounty that is native to Southeast Asia.


I realize this is old school metaphor for "it's hot" but it sure as hell reads as if this "tropical bounty" is poisonous.
posted by chavenet at 4:57 AM on June 26 [18 favorites]


This article was ... so very bad. I couldn't decide if describing durian as "the smell of death" or translating rambutan as "hairy thing" was worse. Thank you for pulling together the resources that point out exactly why it was so terrible.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:59 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]


Americans, having suppressed knowledge of indigenous fruit through brutal genocidal tactics, prefer the bounty of China: oranges, gooseberry, plums, apricots, and chestnuts.

This is my new favorite sentence of the month.

And that NYTimes article is terrible. There's a good story to tell about fruit that may be unfamiliar to the reader (but at the same time acknowledging that not all readers share that ignorance), but this article did not achieve that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]


I love this kind of reframing in general and many of these tweets in particular.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:13 AM on June 26


to be fair, rambutan rly is a fruit literally named for the hairs (rambut-an). but i don't think there's an agreed upon nice translation for it, the -an suffix can be taken as a general noun thing or a state of description. my friends and i had a back and forth about it, and we proposed 'the hairy one', 'the hairiness', 'that thing with the hair', and tbh by the end i'm just surprised they went with newly racist coronavirus comparison when the extremely well-worn vulgar one of comparing it a particular body part is just... right there... ripe for the taking...

in fact the same kind of conundrum applies to durian, as 'duri' is Malay for thorns.
posted by cendawanita at 6:50 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


For most people it's not something that could be changed even with a conscious effort, it's just the world we live in.

Seems to me, at the very least, as a regional correspondent, the act of writing about it seems like a very conscious effort.

like, as an Asian from Southeast Asia, raspberries' physical form deeply upsets me, with its little tiny hairs poking through a cluster of blisters that resembles insect eggs, but you know, i don't actually get paid describing it that way. (i love raspberries, it's just how it looks deeply imprinted on me unpleasantly the first time i saw a proper punnet of fresh raspberries)
posted by cendawanita at 6:55 AM on June 26 [29 favorites]


I like durian and everytime I eat it I wonder what was going through the minds of the first people who tried to eat it. I mean, it stinks, it's covered in hard spikes, it's hard to get into. The whole thing is giving off a stay the hell away vibe. Yet some brave person got past the smell, and the spikes, cracked one open and found it to be delicious!
posted by pianissimo at 7:01 AM on June 26


The rambutan bit really gets me. Its pulp, before biting into it, has such a perfect texture, it hits that whole "must put a Tide pod in my mouth" temptation, I hate to even bite down, I just want to hold it in my mouth forever, and its little spikes remind me of the sweetgum balls I used to step on as a kid, though not as sharp and unforgiving. Coronavirus? That's just a nasty comparison.
posted by mittens at 7:02 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Yeah, my familiarity with rambutan is through Indonesian where I've been told "Rambutan" means hairy, but I think breathless literal translation is sort of the same thing as saying "Isn't it bizarre that if you literally translate 'strawberry,' it means 'berry that is black!?'" It doesn't add anything, and it's just another way to exoticise.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:18 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


I am always amazed at what people have decided to consider edible.

Both sides of my family have branches leading back to Scotland. I am firmly convinced most Scottish cuisine is based on dares.

“Ah bet ye ye wouldnae eat that.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:56 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


(er, that should be blackberry)
posted by ChuraChura at 8:03 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


Yet some brave person got past the smell, and the spikes, cracked one open and found it to be delicious!

The story is apparently we have much to owe to the indigenous community, who discovered this because apparently elephants are mad for this stuff, and they've been known to fling the fruit against rocks and trees to split it open before eating it. :D
posted by cendawanita at 8:04 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]


Anyways, my point is that anything can seem exotic, especially if it hasn't been assimilated into common commercial food production and hasn't been commodified.

This isn't a coincidence - this is on purpose. This is active racism in practice. "Oh its no ones fault, people just don't know about XYZ cultural habit" is a gross misrepresentation of the devaluation of Asian cultures. The reason no one "knows" is racism. The reason we continue not to know is racism. The reason it hasn't been assimilated is racism.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:05 AM on June 26 [31 favorites]


Remember when the NYT discovered boba
posted by BungaDunga at 8:55 AM on June 26


From personal experience it's become predictable how eloquently people in privileged positions are quick to use class to explain away and excuse complaints of racism. The article wasn't really racist if you put "yourself in the shoes" of a non-urban or non-cosmopolitan person (really?); racism is structural so your perceived racism is not "humanist" and is divisive; Asians are racist to each other too so Asian Americans talking about NYTimes' racism matters less; it's the capitalist system alienating everyone, etc., etc. I've heard it all. The worst, purest racism isn't the act, it's this ideologizing that comes to its defense.

Interestingly, racism existed before capitalism. Why people are so certain about the "real" role of class in every instance of racism... it demands skepticism.
posted by polymodus at 8:59 AM on June 26 [19 favorites]


People who enjoyed these tweets might enjoy the LA Time's parody of NYT's condescending articles about Los Angeles (with hyperlink receipts!)

Column: For cramped New York, an expanding dining scene

My favorite part:

My first culinary encounter was with pizza, a mysterious kind of baked tlayuda, covered in macerated tomatoes and milk coagulation, and occasionally smothered with a type of thinly sliced lap cheong called pepperoni. The odd dish, sometimes referred to as a pie, washed ashore from Naples some years ago. While the taste takes some getting used to, pizza can be enchanting when done properly.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:59 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


Yeah the answer to literally every "why did people ever think to eat that??" is "we observed other animals eating them and not dying." That, or "we were literally starving so we gave it a shot and didn't die." No big mystery.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:01 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


Yeah the answer to literally every "why did people ever think to eat that??" is "we observed other animals eating them and not dying.

That feels like an awful big simplification to me. Like, what about foods (various bean types, for example) that need to be cooked in order to be safe for human consumption? Or fugu - how much trial and error must have been involved in figuring out what parts were safe? It's hard to believe we learned to boil artichokes from watching animals. It's a fascinating question, I think, and one we shouldn't dismiss so cavalierly.

the extremely well-worn vulgar one of comparing it a particular body part is just... right there...

I once read a story where one character, in the produce section of a grocery store, comes across a wrinkly fruit that's full of seeds and muses that "Mother Nature must have been thinking about Father Nature when she designed the fig."
posted by nickmark at 9:31 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


McSweeney's, 2019
posted by anem0ne at 10:37 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Like, what about foods (various bean types, for example) that need to be cooked in order to be safe for human consumption?

Well, outside of mushrooms, there really aren't that many apparently-edible things where one bite = death. Even famously poisonous berries like deadly nightshade probably won't kill an adult from eating just one. So there's often leeway to experiment (plus many of these only-safe-after-processing foods are simply unpalatable in their raw forms, encouraging experimentation).
posted by Pyry at 11:15 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


That National Geographic article linked by the McSweeney's page (quoted, but unavailable when I clicked on the link) was likely referring to kaya toast, which is AMAZING, and the author was a numbskull.

It's so hot out - what I wouldn't do for an iced Milo.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:53 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Like, what about foods (various bean types, for example) that need to be cooked in order to be safe for human consumption?

It's now believed that humans evolved from the very start to require cooked food in our diet, after the invention of cooking by our evolutionary ancestors over a million years ago. So for all of human history and prehistory, if a plant seemed maybe edible but didn't taste great, or it tasted fine but made people sick, attempting to cook it (or otherwise process it) was a logical next step.

Then it's a lot of trial and error. Our cultures evolve though a process of trial and error analogous to evolution in biological species. Like biological evolution, cultural evolution can - given enough time - produce impressively sophisticated results. Somebody stumbles on one step that seems to make cassava less risky; that spreads and another step is discovered. Over time, complex rituals can evolve, each slightly more effective than the last. In South America, where humans have eaten cassava for thousands of years, tribes have learned the many steps needed to detoxify it completely: scrape, grate, wash, boil the liquid, leave the solid to stand for two days, then bake [...] We learn not by understanding from first principles, but by imitating. One study challenged participants to place weights on the spokes of a wheel to maximise the speed at which it rolled down a slope. Each person's best effort would be passed to the next person. Because they benefited from earlier experiments, later participants did much better. Yet when asked, they showed no sign of actually understanding why some wheels rolled faster than others.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:42 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


I don't know. It's hard to describe things in a way that is informative but not boring. I think the author was trying to be vivid but veered to overly exoticising things. This blowback has elements of class issues as some people might not have cultural reference points for some of these fruits and the author was trying to write an entertaining piece. Not everyone lives in a part of the world where they have access to an Asian grocery store, or have the means to travel, or live in a culturally diverse community.

You don't have to have a local Asian grocer to be polite about other people's food. The well off don't have an exclusive claim to civility. And sidelining the racial narrative in favor of class (are NYT writers and editors considered low-class? Is their writing aimed at poor, small-town Americans?) prioritizes the feelings of imagined small town white Americans over the real people who are saying that this way of describing their food is offensive to them. There was even a prescient comment yesterday in the race Metatalk about derailing conversations about race using 'weird Asian food' as an example.

In other news, I need to try kaya toast... despite reading the National Geographic description first, a coconut custard sandwich sounds amazing. I wonder if the canned kaya is worth getting, or should I just bite the bullet and make it fresh?
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 1:22 PM on June 26 [12 favorites]


showbiz_liz, those links are fascinating. They kinda underscore the point I was trying to make, though, which was simply that your previous comment seemed (at least to me) to simplify the amazing things that can result from millennia of cultural and biological evolution to a level that almost denies that we should find them fascinating. As your second link points out, processing foods in these elaborate ways "is not something one learns to do by chance."

It'd be like looking at a field of fireflies and thinking "meh, it's just random mutation and natural selection" instead of marveling that random mutation and natural selection could produce something so beautiful and surprising (and also produce a species capable of observing and appreciating its beauty and being surprised by it).

Thinking now about the context of the thread, I can see how focusing on (and framing the question as) "Geez, who would ever think to eat that - how weird!" would come across as more of the exoticising of foods that's exactly the problem in the original post. That wasn't my intent at all; I really was meaning just to try and highlight the sense of wonder I get from reading articles like the ones you linked. Ultimately I agree that it may be "no big mystery" how people figured out certain things, but I think it's pretty amazing nevertheless.

Anyway, I apologize if I came across the wrong way - I wasn't thinking about my comment in the context of the rest of the thread, and I really should have. I'll try to be better about that in the future.
posted by nickmark at 2:16 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Maybe there's some SEA lobbyist group secretly funding negative durian coverage in American media so they can just keep all the durian for themselves? (not that a lot of Americans need much coaxing to avoid the unfamiliar I guess)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 3:08 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


I mean, the NYT's weirdly consistent 50-year history of racism with respect to durian suggests that we don't really need any elaborate explanations here.

Also per being mindful of "the context of the thread" as mentioned above, it does seem worth noting that "maybe people are secretly promoting racism against themselves" -- even in jest -- is not a great direction for such conversations to go.
posted by Not A Thing at 4:41 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Less than 3 percent of Thailand’s fruit was exported to the United States. Distance is one problem, as are worries about fruit flies accompanying the imports. But the main reason for the low figure may be that Southeast Asia’s indigenous fruits have what Fuchsia Dunlop, a British author of Chinese cookbooks, calls a high “grapple factor.”

What gives anyone the idea that that's the case, considering how many people around the world bother with pineapples, crab, coconuts, grapefruit ("requiring a specialized, delicate, spoon, or the judicious and dextrous application of the intimidating local knives they call 'headman knives'...")?

I mean, shipping fresh fruit is a real challenge, with questions of timing and climate and scale all built in, to the point where *of course* we breed fruit to ship better, regardless of taste. And zealous agriculture inspectors are in fact a thing.
posted by pykrete jungle at 5:05 PM on June 26


to be fair, rambutan rly is a fruit literally named for the hairs (rambut-an). but i don't think there's an agreed upon nice translation for it, the -an suffix can be taken as a general noun thing or a state of description. my friends and i had a back and forth about it, and we proposed 'the hairy one', 'the hairiness', 'that thing with the hair', and tbh by the end i'm just surprised they went with newly racist coronavirus comparison when the extremely well-worn vulgar one of comparing it a particular body part is just... right there... ripe for the taking...

in fact the same kind of conundrum applies to durian, as 'duri' is Malay for thorns.
posted by cendawanita
I got you covered:
hairy bois
and
pointy bois
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:00 PM on June 26 [13 favorites]


oh god im dead, and as they say, posting from the grave lol.

re: kaya - yea! you should definitely try some. it's basically non-dairy custard kind of jam, and you'll do fine with any decently packaged one. (making it is so time consuming ...) Other than toast, if you have a takoyaki maker you can make kaya balls. heck, add some to your waffles and pancakes. there's the plain more brown one, and the green ones with pandan which is a bit more fragrant, i find.
posted by cendawanita at 7:11 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Kaya is so good that I do not permit myself to keep any in the house anymore, after too many late night moments where I accidentally the whole jar.
posted by lollusc at 8:18 PM on June 26 [4 favorites]


I feel like people are demanding a lot of explanation for how people tried eating things. As a biologist, whenever I go on a hike and point out a plant or fungus to a companion, the most common question I get is "is it edible?" People are curious and creative, and we like eating things.
posted by agentofselection at 8:31 PM on June 26 [6 favorites]


The thing I found most odd about the article was that it did a piss-poor job of describing how the fruits actually tasted. Like, the one time I had rambutan, it tasted like an apple with the texture of a grape (although the Tide pod reference above was pretty apt, too).

And, durian... Well, I honestly can’t tell you how they taste because I couldn’t get past the oniony/sulphury smell. It truly is a one-of-a-kind type of off-putting.

How hard is that?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:46 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


[One deleted. So, this whole article is about offensive tropes and cliches about Southeast Asian fruits, so obviously don't do that, right? This is one of many racist microaggressions that make spaces (including Metafilter) unwelcoming to members of non-dominant cultures.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:41 PM on June 26 [8 favorites]


The thing I found most odd about the article was that it did a piss-poor job of describing how the fruits actually tasted.

Oh I would LOVE to see an article describing the tastes of different fruits. It's really hard to do! Especially without resorting to comparisons with other fruits. Like, okay, maybe rambutan tastes like an apple with the texture of a grape, but how would you describe an apple? Or a grape?

The article mentions salak which are honestly one of the most delicious fruits I have ever tasted (such that I kept eating them even after discovering that the spiky skin can end up covering your fingers in papercuts into which it embeds spiny scales), but I couldn't begin to describe the flavour in a way that conveys anything useful.
posted by lollusc at 1:44 AM on June 27


Maybe there's some SEA lobbyist group secretly funding negative durian coverage in American media so they can just keep all the durian for themselves? (not that a lot of Americans need much coaxing to avoid the unfamiliar I guess)
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape 14 hours ago [+] [!]


I know this is supposed to be a cute joke, but blaming the minority for the racism they face is a white supremacist tactic and I think we should steer away from it.
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:26 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]




Metafilter: too many late night moments where I accidentally the whole jar.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 10:23 AM on June 28


Maybe there's some SEA lobbyist group secretly funding negative durian coverage in American media so they can just keep all the durian for themselves? (not that a lot of Americans need much coaxing to avoid the unfamiliar I guess)Two unicycles and some duct tape

Shutupshutupyouknowtoomuch...I mean, erm, I have no idea what you're talking about. Why would we do that? shifty eyes
posted by Alnedra at 1:38 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Oh I would LOVE to see an article describing the tastes of different fruits.

A friend just linked to this, and it feels like a mirror universe article: 15 Southeast Asian Fruits Worth Travelling For. Most of the fruits listed are seldom mentioned in these kinds of things, which is great for me as well, now i can add them to my bucket list.
posted by cendawanita at 2:02 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


(for the record/future readers: i was trying to make a lighthearted comment above but i read the room poorly, sorry about that. thanks Not A Thing, taz, and FirstMateKate for helping me see that.)

(i do want to try some durian someday and i suspect they might have some at my local asian market but it'll have to be a postdiluvian goal for now)

posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:31 PM on July 9


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