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In international journalism, I am willing to say the single most tired Southeast Asian reporting cliche is that of DURIAN, THE FREAK SHOW FRUIT. In this @nytimes piece, “occasional disappointment” turns out to be a meta remark about the article, not the fruit. Thread:
This example of old-school worldly dispatch reported as a magazine-style feature immediately makes it extremely clear it only wants to paint the story's setting in ~*~exotic~*~ terms: Tropical Sun, Sticky Sweet Fruit, Peculiar Cultural Habits Of These Strange Peoples.
By my count, this is over 1,100 words long. Proper feature. So @hkbeech sets the scene, detailing a circus of SEA fruit oddities: rambutan ("hairy thing" in Malay!), langsat ("worth it, but only just"), jackfruit ("rubbery", "complicated"), dragonfruit ("bland mush") ...
Mangosteens are "an exercise in disappointment", unflatteringly compared to Western-beloved peaches. The only plus is that a rare perfect mangosteen can sometimes upstage your average peach. Oh, and there's the not-quite-crunchy salak ("hovers between delectable and decayed".)
Haven't even got to the star of the show yet but the author's surely established her bona fides in SEA fruit critique. Maybe there's an interesting angle here? This can't be another DURIAN, THE FREAK SHOW FRUIT piece... @nytimes has literally been doing exactly that for 50 years.
Unsurprisingly, there's no interest to subvert the exhausted tropes that surround Western food writing of Southeast Asian fruit. Here are the trite clichés to aromatic fruits. Yes, yes, I bet durian smells like socks and/or whatever cheese last went bad in the author's fridge...
OK wait I wasn't expecting *this*.
The closest thing to reportage here is a visit to a Thai market, with a quote from a couple of fruit sellers. It is appalling to be based in SEA and not have local food scientist/food writer contacts. I mean, this is a region almost always reductively described as food-obsessed.
Of course, despite its feature length, the article does not shy away from reductive stereotypes of SEA countries and their peoples.

Thais are poor but plucky entrepreneurs. Indonesia burns down forests and shoots orangutans. The Chinese will hungrily eat anything.
It's disappointing not just because of its needless negativity — tone-deaf at a time when food writing is finally experiencing a moment to reflect on how harmful reductive, exoticizing, colonial media is. See also recent storms ft. @bonappetit or @alisoneroman (who tbh I adore).
Odds are even the NYT reader tapping at that headline learns absolutely nothing new about durian — anybody even passingly interested in food is likely already well-introduced to DURIAN, THE FREAK SHOW FRUIT.

So allow me to end with links to interesting durian stories:
1) From @saysdotcom: A durian stall in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia posted a viral job ad for a "knife master for hire", offering to immediately hire the first hot guy with durian knife skills who applies. (Not me, sorry.)…
2) @NST_Online discovers that a durian farmer in Segamat, Malaysia has been employing two pocong, or funeral-shrouded ghosts, to successfully deter durian thieves.…
3) Harian Metro has the story of a durian farmer so enamored with his 12kg mega-durian that he won't sell it, even though someone's offered him RM200/US$50 for it. That person didn't even want to eat it, they wanted to preserve it as a souvenir! [Malay]…
4) The Chinese ambassador to Malaysia gives a durian interview to @bernamadotcom, talking about the special relationship between China and Malaysia vis-a-vis durian. Demand is so good that even COVID-19 hasn't led to a slowdown in imports.…
5) @501Awani reports the story of durian thieves in Perak, Malaysia, nabbed by cops and, uh, punished by villagers by having durian skins stuffed in their mouths... [Malay]…
6) Up north in Terengganu, Malaysia, the state health department had to formally deny fake news on WhatsApp that a durian seller was spreading coronavirus with his fruit. [Malay]…
7) Over in Thailand, @KhaosodEnglish via Xinhua reports on the Thailand Institution of Scientific and Technological Research, which has unveiled a new type of fruit packaging capable of keeping strong odors from leaking out.…
8) And in the Philippines, this @manilabulletin piece is fascinating — a food technologist from Davao has developed a probiotic beer from durian while studying for her Master's degree at Louisiana State University!…
So there you have it, eight *recent* stories about durian without having to resort to DURIAN, THE FREAK SHOW FRUIT clichés. The relationship between the peoples of Southeast Asia and durian is a fascinating lens to view from, capable of so much storytelling. Do better, @nytimes.
@nytimes Other really excellent resources:

1) James Beard Award winner @osayiendolyn’s really thoughtful and incisive editorial critique of this piece. It’s the edit this story should have gotten.… (thanks for the link, @aweav)
Enjoyed this? Here's a new thread looking at how the @nytimes has written about durian in the past, spanning six decades of largely trite "reporting" unwilling to escape the negative clichés of DURIAN, THE FREAK SHOW FRUIT.
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