At around noon on Friday, firefighters were dispatched to a neighborhood in Australia’s capital city to hunt for the source of a potential gas leak after reports of a pungent smell wafting around the area.
At the time, Canberra resident Phuong Tran jokingly remarked on social media that the cause was probably someone eating durian, a spiky fruit from Southeast Asia that has a decidedly divisive reputation. Haters say it has an odoriferous smell; those who like the durian, on the other hand, call it the “king of fruits.”
An hour later, the regional Emergency Services Agency confirmed Tran’s quip. While searching the area, first responders were advised by the owner of a property above neighborhood shops that the source of the smell was likely to be a durian.
“After a short investigation, crews confirmed [the durian] was the origin of the incident,” the agency wrote in a Facebook update. “The fruit gives off a very pungent smell and can waft some distance.”
Tran said in an interview that he made a guess once he saw the report originated from Dickson, a neighborhood known for its many Asian restaurants and grocery stores.
Multicultural Australia has a sizable Southeast Asian population, many of who have some roots in Malaysia, which is a major exporter and consumer of durians. Despite this, Friday was not the first time Australian residents mistakenly called for first responders after smelling the tropical fruit.
In 2018, nearly 500 students and teachers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology were evacuated from a campus library after a chemical hazard alert. The culprit turned out to be a piece of rotting durian left in a cupboard.
The following year, “the king of fruits” struck again, with people evacuated from the University of Canberra library when a “strong smell of gas” was reported. Hazmat crews scoured the space; the source was again a durian.
Durians are banned from some hotels and public transport systems in countries like Singapore and Japan, partly for fear that the fruit’s signature smell would linger and cause a public ruckus.
But its popularity has slowly spread beyond Southeast Asia. China, for instance, imported $2.3 billion worth of the fruit in 2020, United Nations data show. The late chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain reportedly remarked that the taste of durians is “indescribable, something you will either love or despise . . . Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”
Tran, the Canberra resident, is decidedly a fan: He is going to pick up a pack of durians after work on Friday.