Durian fruit outside Mao Shan Wang cafe in the Chinatown district of Singapore

A Singapore eatery centered around the pungent tropical fruit durian has caught a whiff of success as patrons flock to the cafe in droves for a bite of its exotic offerings. The spiky fruit long regarded as a delicacy in Southeast Asia has left a divisive trail-you either love it or hate it-and its odor means it is banned in most hotels and metro trains. Detractors often describe its intense smell as a mix of gym socks and onions, while enthusiasts liken the creamy texture and intense aroma to blue cheese. While the bittersweet fruit is usually eaten on its own or as dessert, the Mao Shan Wang cafe in Singapore's Chinatown district has a special menu with durian in all dishes, even savory ones.

A customer reaching for durian at Mao Shan Wang cafe in Singapore

Customers can opt for chicken nuggets with a durian dip, pizza topped with durian flesh, fries with a side of durian sauce, all washed down with coffee-durian infused, of course. "Durian is (usually) eaten by itself and as sweets or treats, but what our company wanted to do was put it with savory stuff like fries and nuggets," company spokesman Lance Lee told AFP. "We will be looking to expand the offerings as well, with maybe rice, pasta and other things." Mao Shan Wang, Chinese for Cat Mountain King, refers to a strain of durian from Kelantan state in neighboring Malaysia distinguished by its bittersweet taste and small seeds.

When AFP visited the cafe on a weekend afternoon, business was brisk. While many opted for durian ice cream to beat the muggy tropical heat, the more adventurous customers, most of them tourists, were seen trying the strong-smelling fruit-while wearing gloves. Many were also waiting in line to buy durian-flavored confectionery, and even freshly cut up fruit conveniently sealed in vacuum packs for their plane journey. American tourist Michael Capps, who had been trying fresh durian straight from the husk, said he was a convert. "It's hard to explain the taste to it, but it actually has like a sweet taste to it and it's very good."-AFP