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.
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!