The year of the durian
Meet Lindsay Gasik, durian hunter and fanatic. Gasik is the face behind the Year of the Durian blog and the author of The Durian Tourist's Guide To Thailand, a comprehensive travel guide to indulging in Southeast Asia's King of Fruit.
Her blog, as well as her book is designed for funk-seeking adventurers who have a taste for durian, want to connect with Thai fruit farmers and learn about sustainable horticultural practices in Thailand. Guru speaks to Gasik about her obsession with durian, her blog and hunting down and eating the best durian Thailand has to offer.
Tell us how your love for durian began.
My interest in durian began in the summer of 2009 when I attended a vegan festival in America trying to learn more about plant-based diets. The presenters talked a lot about food diversity and how many types of edible plants Americans don't even know exist. Many of them had travelled overseas and showed pictures of tropical fruits, and one was durian. At that time no one mentioned that durian smelled yucky -- they described durian as being the most delicious of fruits, magical, addicting, intoxicating, like dessert on a tree... and I got very curious.
I decided to look for it and found a frozen Monthong from Thailand at the local Asian grocery store. At that time there were no YouTube tutorials on how to open a durian, so it was a very messy situation for me! But I found the shape of the fruit so interesting and weird, and I really wanted to see what it was like fresh and wanted to find out what sort of tree would grow a giant fruit like that.
So it began in 2010, when I took my first trip to Asia to the Philippines.
Why the intense love for durian?
What intrigued me the most about durian was the mythology around it and the intensity of feeling that people here have for durian. In my attempts to learn more about durian -- the different types, the way it's grown, the way it's eaten -- I found a way to travel differently, to explore areas of Southeast Asia that maybe I'd never think to go to because there are no tourist destinations there, and also to meet people and have real conversations.
People don't realise that I'm intensely shy and was more so when I was younger and my curiosity about durian gave me the courage to go out and talk to people. Then it turned out that I got along well with people involved in durian. I'm apparently a 'durian person'! Durian is what got me hooked and the friendships are what made me stay.
Tell us about the Year of the Durian website. What is its purpose?
The Year of the Durian is a blog designed to help durian lovers travel for durian. It's been generally assumed that foreigners can't or won't eat durian, so most of the information about durian has never been made available in English. We try to help durian farmers tell their own stories and share information about how people can visit their farms, even in areas that are not yet open to English-speakers and that might normally be difficult for foreigners to travel. We have maps, guides and information about what durians to find where and when.
Tells us about the Year of the Durian app. Why the need for an app and how does it work?
The Year of the Durian app is geared for tourists who would like to plan their trip up to three months in advance of a season. My husband, Richard, is the developer of the app and we found that a common problem for travellers was arriving in Southeast Asia at the right time to coincide with durian season. Durian season is typically only two to three months long and can be unpredictable. It's easy for someone travelling from another country to arrive at the wrong time, especially since you have to book your flight six to eight weeks in advance.
We communicate with a network of about 800 farmers across Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and Australia to keep track of the durian seasons. We also hope that scientists can someday use the data to learn more about durian seasons and weather patterns.
How does the 'Mail Order Durian Tours In A Box' work?
The 'Mail Order Durian Tours In A Box' is a tasting set of three to five varieties of durian from a specific region. On the box you'll find pictures of the farmers who grew the durians and other fruits inside the box, as well as QR codes to videos for Virtual Farm Tours and other educational materials. The goal was to bring the experience of durian tours into the home. We started this project before the pandemic and it turns out the 'Tours In A Box' has been popular while people can't travel. We currently deliver in America, Canada and Australia. We can also ship to some countries in the EU.
Where are you based?
I'm based wherever the durian is ripe. We move with the seasons.
How do the durian tours work? Are they ongoing during times like these?
Currently all durian tours are on hold. We hope to resume in November. In a normal year, we partner with local farms and eco-travel companies to create three to 10-day durian tasting tours that explore the culture, agriculture and local geography of places through durian. I realised early on in my travels that people and culture have had a huge impact in shaping what types of durian and what types of flavours are preferred in different regions and how different agricultural practices contribute to shaping the durian to local preferences. It's basically a wine tour but for durian.
What is your favourite type of durian and why?
I don't have an absolute No.1 because that encourages mono-crop thinking.
Funky Facts & Figures
- Durian contains 0% cholesterol.
- Durian trees in the wild grow up to 45m-high.
- Durian trees can live 300 years or longer.
- There are 13 edible species of durian.
- By 1884, Thailand recorded more than 60 varieties of durian.
- Today, there are more than 200 varieties of durian in Thailand.