Doesn’t look like much, does it? It looks just like any ordinary egg. But do not be deceived — the balut is for the consumption and enjoyment only of the gastronomically daring and the adventurous. And if you do dare, I assure you that once you taste it, you’ll be an addict … for life! Like my Singaporean friend Symon Ler.
I remember when I was a child, as dusk settled over the city, the ambulant balut vendor, like clockwork, would walk past our house, shouting in a distinct melodic tone “Balu-u-u-u-t!!!” My Dad loved it and would enjoy one with his daily beer before dinner. The whole ritual of eating it fascinated me. First, he would determine the “butt” side of the egg and crack it gently, enough to peel away a small hole. He would then slurp all the hot ducky broth through that hole — very noisily, if I may add — before peeling away more of the shell to reveal the golden yolk and ducky embryo inside. He would then proceed to eat all that’s inside — except for the toughened albumin, which my dog would happily dispose of. I eventually learned to love balut. And at one point in my college days, it became one of my food obsessions (more about that in another post) that I would skip a class and my professor would find me sitting by one of the campus kiosks, demolishing up to 5 baluts at a time, washed down with Coke!
Way back in 1997, I even “defended” it in a Salon.com column called Mondo Weirdo. Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Discovery Travel and Living channel, said in one interview, “I found it actually quite ordinary in the sense that it tasted like a hard-boiled egg with roasted duck inside of it. I really quite enjoyed it. It was surprisingly good in the sense that I was prepared for it to be stranger to my palate than it really was.” Nowadays, balut has become more than just a culinary curiosity. It’s been made “haute-cuisine-ized” into a soufflé, cooked adobo style, or deep-fried (called tokneneng, which is eaten with chili vinegar).
Balut is NOT unique to the Philippines. The idea of eating fertilized duck eggs came from the Chinese who traded with the Philippine islanders a long time ago. It seems most Asian men back then (and maybe until now?) believed that eating balut enhanced their virility! Really? Their virility needs enhancing??? Anyway, I read that the Vietnamese, who also got it from the Chinese, prefer the chick in their balut, which they call hot vit lon, a little older— with feathers and bones already developed!!! Anthony Bourdain tried the Vietnam version and, no, he wasn’t that sold on it. I wouldn’t go for a boiled egg with a half-incubated baby duck inside either. For us Filipinos, the ideal balut should be only about 17 days old. That is what’s called “balut sa puti” (“wrapped in white”) — the white is the albumin, which is the source of protein food for the developing chick embryo. Although pronounced as balút, with accent on the second syllable, the root word balot means “to wrap”. So, the albumin is not too hardened and the chick inside should not be mature enough to show its beak, feathers or claws, and the bones should be undeveloped.
Just goes to show — different yolks for different folks.