My Balut Story: one Filipina’s way of eating a balut

Balut has always been a delicacy among Filipinos.  If you don’t know what balut is, it’s duck egg that has been incubated seventeen to twenty days such that there’s a developed fetus inside it and then boiled alive. Once you open it, and have seen the unhatched duckling in all it’s gory glory, you’d probably include it in your list of the worst gross out food you’ve ever seen.  This is probably why it’s sold at night in the Philippines.  So balut lovers won’t see what they’re eating.

I’m Filipina.  And I used to eat balut.  My American husband is still in disbelief how such a dainty woman could have had the stomach to eat this nasty stuff.  But then again, I am Filipino.

From my recollection, balut was actually pretty tasty.  I think this delicacy got so much flack because people focus more on the duck embryo, the part that makes it visually unappetizing.  But that is actually just one part of the balut.  There are actually four major parts: sabaw or broth; sisiw, or duck embryo; pula, or yolk; and puti, or egg white.

This exotic food of sorts had been famously featured in the reality show “Fear Factor” as one of the challenges.  From the show, viewers might think that the way to eat it is to peel and gobble.  But in the same way that there’s a technique to peeling and eating an artichoke, there’s also a technique to eating a balut.

The way I do it is to first wrap it with a napkin, or with the paper bag – usually an origami of recycled newspaper or phone book pages – that came with it, or even the lower part of my shirt,  as the egg is served hot off the vendor’s basket. I would then lightly tap either tip of the egg to see which end is hollow, and which end has the hard rubbery egg white.

I would crack a small hole on the hollow part, and take a whiff of it to see if it’s rotten.  If it smells funky, I’d ask for a replacement.  But if it smells “fresh”, I’d slowly sip the savory broth.  It’s hard to explain in not so many words the technique in sipping the broth, but the video clip below is dead on in showing how.

After emptying the egg of its broth, I then slowly peel off the shell until I get to either the yolk or the duck, which are usually side by side. Me, I prefer to eat the duck first because it’s less filling.  (And may I add that I’ve always eaten this part in the dark.) I would try first pouring it out to my mouth.  If that doesn’t work, I scoop it out using a piece of shell, or my fingers.

After that’s gone, I’d take a bite at the yolk after sprinkling a bit of rock salt provided by the vendor.  After that’s been consumed, I would chip away at the egg until I finally get to the the egg white. This part is usually tough.  If I’m lucky, the shell would come off easily and the egg white would be a chewable.  If it’s too hard, or the shell is difficult to peel off,  I’d either toss it or slowly scrape the surface by shaving it white against my lower teeth.

The last time I ate a balut was when I was around 9 years old.  On that last time, I asked the vendor to give me my usual preference of maliit na sisiw or a younger embryo.  But fate had it that I was never again eat another balut.  As unbeknownst to me, he gave me an older embryo.  That night, the streetlight was brighter than usual, the moon full and big, and the stars out in multitudes.   And I saw clearly what I was about to eat.

At first I was in disbelief.  It looked like a small dinosaur fossil but with feathers and a gelatinous eye.  Was this the thing that I had been eating all these years?  With a piece of shell, I poked it.  And out spilled a murky liquid and tiny  black chunks of internal organs.  It was all dark, except for a chunk that looked like a ball of white string which was its intestines. My reaction was immediate.  I threw up big time before I had the chance to toss it.  After that experience, my balut-eating days were over.

With all that said, anyone care to sample with me some delicious pork stew in coagulated blood sauce?  Or perhaps a bowl of shredded goat meat and liver stew in bile broth? Or a stick of barbecued chicken intestines? My treat!

The price of a “tuko” or tokay gecko (Part 2); or “Tuko” and Tokay Gecko Scams

A week ago, I posted a blog “The price of a “tuko” or tokay gecko” about my Filpino father’s handyman fattening up a tokay gecko to 300 grams so he can sell it for PhP600,000.  The price, to me, seemed an outrageously huge amount for a loudmouth, but oh so cool, pet. So I went online to look at prices for this lizard.  It turns out that they don’t sell for that much.  And that most of the prices on buy-and-sell ads for tokays are hyped up, or worse, they are part of a scam.

Anyone can fall victim to the tuko scam. A posting on a blog, TJSDaily, explains in detail a scam scenario.  But basically here is how it goes:

ConArtist #1 either posts an ad, or mentions casually to would-be victim, that he wants to buy a 300 gram, or heavier, tokay.  He cites an outrageously large amount that he’s willing to pay for it, and leaves his cellphone number.  Potential victim doesn’t have a tokay, but informs ConArtist 1 that he’ll keep an out eye for one.

Enter ConArtist #2, ConArtist #1’s accomplice, who’s selling a tokay for a large sum, but still a small fraction compared to what ConArtist 1 is offering.  Wanting to make a huge profit, victim contacts ConArtist 1 saying he has the tokay.  Victim buys tokay from ConArtist#2.  Both ConArtists #1 and #2 disappear, their cellphones disconnected.  Victim is left with a worthless merchandise.

This modus operandi is nothing new, and not unique to tokays.  Four years ago, a rich widow had been scammed millions using the same M.O. but involving supposedly expensive pearl oyster feed.  Both buyer and seller disappeared after the widow paid the seller.  The packaged “feed” was actually liver pate or spread.

Scams and scammers come in all shapes and sizes.  The lesson here is if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Filipino Lip Pointing: The Whys and Hows

I am Filipina, and I’ve lived most of my life in the Philippines. When I married an American, I discovered that some things I do which have always been so natural to me are new and sometimes even weird to my husband.  One of these is the Filipino practice of lip pointing.  I don’t know when I acquired this trait.  It could be I got it while I was still in my Filipino mother’s womb, and  was lip pointing from the day I was born.  But what I do know is all Filipinos, at least those who have grown up in the Philippines or raised by Filipino parents abroad, perform this gesture on a regular basis.

Filipino lip pointing is actually more than just a simple puckering up. First there’s eye-to-eye contact, followed by variations of lip pursing, combined with a eyebrow, head and neck action, the execution of which all depends on the intention of the pointer.  Non-Filipinos who have observed this gesture find it confusing, and sometimes hilarious.  Foreigners should be wary of this practice.  A Filipina puckering her lips doesn’t necessarily mean she’s asking for a kiss.  She could just be pointing to something on your shoulder.  She might slap you in the face, if you misinterpret.

One of the most common reasons for lip pointing is to give quick directions, of which explaining verbally would take a longer time.  So, if you’re at a mall, and you ask a Filipino who’s carrying grocery bags up to his arms where the rest room is, he might purse his lips then extend his neck to the direction of the restroom in one smooth action.  Or he would purse his lips, lift his head up, and turn it to his left, which means: walk straight ahead, and make a left turn at the next corner. A head bobble before the head lift would mean pass two aisles down before making a left. If he over extends his neck, bends a bit, and stretches his lips outward, it means you’ve got a farther ways to walk.

Another reason why a Filipino would do this gesture is to instruct you to do something.  So when a Filipino carrying large boxes looks at you and purses his lips towards a door knob, it’s a sign for you to open the door.  When that’s combined that with several short and quick head bobbles, it means, “Hurry up!”

Or it could be they’re trying to be discrete, like silently informing you that your fly is open without making it known to other people around you. (This one is usually a slight but quick lip purse, a slight bob of the head, and lifting of both eyebrows.)  Or it could also be that it’s too noisy (not uncommon in the Philippines),  and giving verbal instructions is just futile and hand gestures disadvantageous. Like stealthily lip pointing to you the last available seat in a rock concert.

There are just so many reasons why Filipinos do this gesture.  Here’s a hilarious clip from a Filipino American Christine Gambito, aka “Happy Slip”, which show some of the funnier reasons.

My American husband and I have been married for almost 9 years now, and lived in the Philippines for more than 3 years.  I’ve tried teaching him how to interpret these lip pointing gestures, and how to do them correctly. He still sometimes shakes his head in confusion.  It’s so entertaining to see him do it. It’s just so funny to see an American pucker up at nothing.  Ay, naku!