Balut: the Stuff of Nightmares?

Balut“You can’t leave Manila without eating balut!”

That is usually what we would say to our friends who are visiting Manila for the very first time. Yes, it is that same seemingly innocent-looking egg that gripped the contestants of the television show Fear Factor years back. Since then, it has seemed to have gained a reputation that could very well be the stuff that legends are made of.

Balut is a boiled fertilized duck egg. The embryo is allowed to develop for 18 days before it is then cooked and served. Across the Philippines, you will see men and women carrying wick baskets filled with balut and penoy (boiled duck egg without the embryo). Filipinos would usually eat this along the street with a bit of salt and vinegar.

Although it is popularly known as a street food sold in the Philippines, balut is also a delicacy in other parts of Asia. In one episode of A Cook’s Tour, host Anthony Bourdain dines on hot vit lon for breakfast in Vietnam which is actually a version of the Filipino balut. There are two slight differences. First, Filipinos eat balut during the evening, not for breakfast like they do in Vietnam. Second, the Vietnam version is soft-boiled. In the Philippines, it is cooked until it becomes hard boiled.

Balut egg being peeled

Want Some?

Prior to its stint on Fear Factor, balut is very popular among the Filipinos, especially among the guys because it is supposed to be an aphrodisiac. But then again, don’t they always say that with most other funky looking foods? Growing up, I remember even hearing a song sung by the Mabuhay Singers about the benefits of balut which apparently helps strengthen your bones and gets you invigorated. Some Filipino cooks have even tried to make eating balut less of an ordeal for many first timers by creating recipes like balut ala pobre, which is balut stir-fried with some garlic and oyster sauce.

Still, lots of Filipinos still get quite a kick at seeing the faces of their friends turn from nervous to an embodiment of sheer fright the moment that it is served to them. While many of them may really consider it as one of the worst experiences of their lives, every now and then there will be someone who will actually come around and say “it’s not bad at all!”

The balut…the stuff of nightmares or a matter of taste? You decide.

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