A Guide to Eating the Duck Embryo Filipino Delicacy—Balut
The fertilized duck egg delicacy of the Philippines definitely earned its place in Sweden’s Disgusting Food Museum, together with escargot, Rocky Mountain oysters, mouse wine, eyeball juice, and many others. Largely depending on where you are from and the culture you were raised in, these foods either make your mouth water or totally put you off your next meal. But interestingly, even Filipinos remain divided over their country’s popular snack. Some crave it every night, while others still find it repulsive. This is because acceptance of balut depends on exposure at a young age, much like many of the other “disgusting foods” from other countries.
Have you been considering the snack for quite a while? Here’s how you don’t get messy.
Eating the Philippines’ Duck Embryo Delicacy, the Balut
Sold by vendors after sundown, balut has been an old favorite among Filipinos. Some vendors carry their lidded baskets of eggs and walk the streets, shouting “Balooooot!” like taho vendors. And you’ll have to yell “Balot!” back so the vendor comes over. Other vendors camp on street corners or red-light districts (due to the belief that it’s an aphrodisiac) and await their regular customers. The egg is fertilized and allowed to develop from 16 to 20 days before it’s cooked. By this point, the embryo will have become distinctly duck-like, sometimes complete with eyes, beaks, duck feet, and feathers. Although other Southeast Asians like the Vietnamese or the Thais have their own versions of balut, the Filipino version remains the most famous, thanks to various reality television shows and eating challenges.
Many people who are afraid to try balut are repulsed by the idea of chewing on an unborn duckling. But balut actually tastes way better than it looks, and munching on the duck embryo doesn’t feel like crunching through bones and cartilage. It’s tender and dissolves in your mouth, almost like a mousse, and a good balut yolk has the soft texture of cream cheese.
Before eating, here are tips to remember:
- Remember to wash before eating as you really have to use your bare hands.
- You want an egg with a thick shell and no visible cracks.
- Balut is best eaten when it’s warm, so better munch on it at once.
- If you really can’t stomach its taste or texture, you can ask the vendor for penoy (pronounced peh-noy) as an alternative. It’s also a duck egg but without the embryo since the egg is below 16 days old.
- You can eat the balut in three bites or less to avoid a visual encounter with the duck embryo, or you can eat it section by section to thoroughly enjoy it.
- In the Philippines, the balut is considered culinary perfection at 15 to 17 days old. The chick shouldn’t show its beak, claws, or feather just yet. This is a more beginner-friendly version than the 20-day old Vietnamese balut with hints of feathers, eyes, and a beak.
Now let’s dig in! Here’s a little guide to eating your first balut.
1. Crack the narrow/pointy end of the balut egg to make a small opening.
This part of the egg is typically hollow, preventing you from spilling the tasty “soup” inside. Make a small opening, just big enough to let some of the juice out.
2. Sip the broth.
You don’t have time to think too much; the snack is best consumed right after opening. Because of shells being porous, the sauce inside quickly evaporates, so don’t let it. This is the tastiest part. Carefully sip the chicken-soup-like broth.
3. Make a larger opening.
Peel off more of the shell to reveal the yolk and the duck. The smell will remind you of hard-boiled eggs and a hint of chicken.
4. Add some of the available condiments.
Balut in the Philippines is often eaten with salt or a chili, garlic, and vinegar (white or coconut sap) mixture as seasoning. The vinegar gives a sour aftertaste, while the salt helps take away the strong scent of the balut. Some vendors also offer spices like chili, pepper, or peppercorn to give you a little kick as you enjoy your balut.
5. Eat the balut.
The yolk looks like a regular egg yolk, except that it’s a bit slimy on the outside. Technically, the entire balut may be consumed, but the white may have an unappetizing, cartilaginous toughness to it, depending on how old the egg is. It’s literally known by locals as bato (stone in English), so people usually leave it behind and throw it away. Those who have tried eating it could attest that its flavor and texture are akin to a pencil eraser.
6. If you have the appetite for it, eat the chick.
You may choose not to, but some people say the chick is the best part of the balut and is best eaten while it’s warm.
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