Saturday, February 07, 2009

Balut - - It's Not That Bad!

I was raised in an isolated town of 1,700 folks way down in south Texas.

How isolated was it? Picture the coastline of Texas.

Can you find Houston?
Good.
Now can you find Corpus Christi southwest of that?
Good.

Okay, now find the mid-point between the two.
There’s nothing there, right?

Okay, that’s where folks in my home town went to have a good time.

Anyway, I grew up there until I left for college in 1977.

There was absolutely nothing interesting to eat. Really. I remember being 12 years old and my family driving 30 miles just to eat pizza for the first time. This was 1971!

Five years later, we drove 30 miles, again, to eat at the first Chinese restaurant in the same town.

Hard-to-obtain pizza and bad Chinese food was the height of my culinary dining until I left my little-bitty-home-town.

My mom and grandmother who raised me, were not that adventurous either. I remember finding a packet of lasagne noodles in the grocery store when I was ten years old. I’d never seen anything like that before and my mom made it known that if I wanted to try lasagne, I’d have to make it.

(There’s a photo of me at ten years old in the family photo album. I was smiling and assembling a lasagne in the kitchen. Ha!)

My mom did try, on occasion, to expand her culinary repertoire, but not much. I remember one instance in the early 70's when she tried a fancy “Chicken al ‘orange”. Mind you, this was the early 70’s when all recipes consisted of getting single women out of the kitchen really fast . . . .

. . . My mom’s “chicken al ‘orange” consisted of smearing a roasting hen with Tang and shoving it in an oven.
. . . Yes, “Tang”. Instant Breakfast Drink.
And you know what?
It was pretty good!

So, my loving upbringing made me long, so much, for anything from other lands.

If any food item was unusual to me, that meant “excitement.” After all, my whole life on the rural south Texas coast had been the antithesis of anything exciting. . . .

I’ve always heard about “Balut” eggs in the Philippines. They’re the fertilized duck eggs that had been allowed to develop a duck embryo half-way, then cooked and eaten.

Wow! The Philippines are seven-thousand miles away and these “balut” eggs are only eaten in Manila. - - The perfect “foreign” food for me.

Anyway, the wife of one of my staff members is from the Philippines and was graciously able to obtain a “balut” egg for me last week. I anxiously brought it back with me and cooked it according to her instructions.

Keep in mind that the “balut” egg is a duck egg in which the fertilized embryo has been allowed to develop exactly halfway. - - A duckling hatches exactly 36 days after fertilization, so the balut eggs are harvested at 18 days.

They are then refrigerated in order to stop the development of the duck fetus, and then boiled. If they are harvested any less than 18 days, the fetus will be too soupy; any more, it will be too crunchy.

Here you go, my friends!

I shall take you on a step-by-step "balut" experience!. . .

. . . So! I boiled my balut egg for 30 minutes according to instructions by a Real Filippino Balut Expert.
("Expert" = She immigrated here seventeen years ago)

Here it is before boiling. It is a tiny bit larger than an hen’s egg and sort of has a blue-greenish hue. It would not stay in the center of the plate, but kept rolling around.


I boiled it for 30 minutes and then cooled it in the fridge.

I tapped it on the counter, and it was definitely “not” a boiled egg. It was much more solid and heavy.

A “balut” egg is supposedly, the perfect snack. One is supposed to peel the top of the eggshell off and there will be a good amount of salty liquid - - a bit of “soup” with which to being one’s lunch. It's basically "amniotic liquid" soup.
You could probably dump it in a bread-bowl and add sour cream and cheese.



I peeled the top of the shell off and there wasn’t anything to slurp. I cracked the top of the egg and here’s what it looked like:

No slurping of amniotic fluid was available.

Dang. I hate it when that happens.

Anyway, I expected a foul smell, but was really surprised. It smelled like a sweet crab or lobster. Not fishy or stinky; just like a faint crabby sort of smell.

I peeled more of the shell away. It was definitely a thicker shell than a hen’s egg.

I could see the veins developing inside the egg. It was definitely a solid thing.

I got the whole egg peeled and took a little bite of the white part. It tasted like an egg combined with that fake crab stuff.

I pulled the egg in half. There was definitely an “egg” half and a “duck” half”

I dissected the “duck” half apart.

I was surprised to come across what looked like “dark meat” on a turkey or duck.

Then, I scraped some membrane away and Voila!
There was the head of the half-formed duckling nestled among a good bit of fat.

Don't you just love it when that happens?


The “eggy” part was quite separate from the “meaty” part and both seemed to take up half the egg. I can see why the Filipinos admire this food item as an “all-in-one” snack.

I tasted the “eggy” part and it simply tasted like a very rich egg.



Like I said, this “balut” egg surprised me and really did not have an off-putting smell. It really did smell like a sweet crab or sort of like a lobster.

So, I sliced off the head of the little fetus with a sharp paring knife.
It's improtant to have a good, sharp, paring knife for when one needs to slice that duck fetus-head away.


The rest of the fetus-in-fetu appeared to be nothing more than duck meat; there were no “guts” that I could see.

However, there were definitely a few wet feathers. Can you see them?
I did not expect that.


I recently saw a video of Andrew Zimmern eating a “balut” egg in the Philippines. He’s the host of Bizarre Foods and he goes around and eats the most disgusting foods imaginable.

When he tried a “balut” egg, he was surprised and said something like, “It’s not that bad!”

I did not want to chawmp into the whole “balut” experience, so I simply popped the head of the duck fetus in my mouth.

I really did. I ate the duck-fetus head first.
When it comes to duck-fetuses, "head-first" is always my philosophy.


During all this testing, I could only detect a strong smell of really sweet crab.
But when I popped the little duck-head fetus in my mouth, and chewed, I was awfully surprised. . . .

At first, it tasted like really strong lobster, which was interesting, but then I was hit with an overpowering taste of really musky chicken liver.

I couldn’t swallow it.
I wanted to swallow it, but I just couldn’t.

That brings me to my other philosophy of life:
Sometimes, you just need to spit it out.

The thing is, I can really see how “balut” eggs would be an appealing food item in the Philippines. I really can.

It’s just that the taste of chicken livers really does hit my “gag reflex”.

Duck-fetus heads seem to do that as well. I'm sorry, but they do.

If I enjoyed that “livery” taste, then balut eggs would be fine and dandy.

There was no “crunchy” texture of bones or duck-skulls to masticate upon. The crunchy-thing is just an urban legend, apparently. Whoever is spreading this around, they should be stopped. After all, I ate the head.

The texture was simply that of a very firm fried egg.


The thing is, I really sort of liked the “lobstery” smell and taste of the balut egg. They are definitely a rich-rich-rich food item and I can really appreciate how they came to be popular there in Southeast Asia.

If I were in a Manila market and a balut egg was offered for less than five bucks, I'd snatch it up. Again, I can definitely see why they are appealing.

Another thing is, the balut egg with which I had been supplied had been under refrigeration for three weeks and I wasn’t totally sure that it was safe to consume.

After all, a duck unfamiliar to me had been lain it in Manila, it was flown to St. Louis, shipped to a market in Missouri, purchased, refrigerated for three weeks, supplied to me in a styrofoam cup, and driven across Illinois . . . Hardly the sort of food item one should be heartily gobbling down.

But I will have to say this -- If I’m ever in Manila and presented with a balut egg on the street, I would smile and happily partake of it now that I know what to expect.
Locals in any country just love it when you do that.

The thing is, I’ve wondered about this food item for the past twenty years. It was the stuff of legend and always sounded disgusting.
Now, the mystery has been solved!

My goodness -- I really loved eating Chinese food for the first time when I was 14 years old near my home town. - - And I’m just tickled to death over eating “balut” and knowing what it’s really like.

The 14-year-old in me who seldom got to eat Chinese food is just giddy!

Bottom Line: If you like a rich, lobstery, chicken-livery, salty-tasting thing, then have fun and chawmp down on a “balut” egg when visiting the Philippines.
I know I will.

Balut - - “It’s not that bad!”

PS: I've saved the rest of the balut egg/meat, frozen in a baggy just in case any guests (you) want to sample it.
I'll always have leftover balut on hand.
After all, what are friends for?

It's what I do.

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13 Comments:

At 11:35 AM , Blogger sfoofie said...

mr. n is willing to try A LOT of weird stuff, but we saw a TV special on this and he promptly stated he could never eat it. It is so great you did though! I would have never thunk after watching that program that I'd know someone who tried it.

 
At 2:25 PM , Blogger Buck said...

Sfoofie - - I now have Balut in my freezer for the next time you and Nabil come down. We can eat it during a picnic on my roof-top!

 
At 3:28 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Yeah, um, I'm takin' a pass on that...

 
At 3:52 PM , Blogger Buck said...

Lorraine: I'll gladly stick with oysters at your place.

 
At 8:56 PM , Blogger MaryRuth said...

oh my...you are a brave one. What a great story--you definitely get the golden fork award for trying it.
I thought it would be way more funkier, visually, than you show.
The Filipinos I used to work with in the restaurant talked about balut, mostly in a joking way though.

 
At 12:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

and what are you doing? and why again? STRANGE....

 
At 10:14 AM , Anonymous seachange said...

LOLOLOL Do you really think anybody is going to take you up on your offer of FROZEN balut? Will the freezing process totally change the texture of the balut? Now if I were a true balut aficionado I would want a fresh egg to share with you.

 
At 9:39 PM , Blogger Pati Mc said...

Thank you. I will forever be traumatized by the fact that you hacked the head off a teeny litte duckie.

 
At 11:28 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

YUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I still can't believe you actually tried that. :)

 
At 11:51 AM , Blogger KarenP said...

I grew up in the Philippines- in the central section though- not Manila. We also had balut there. 2 kinds even- true balut, like what you sampled, and what they call "Balut pinoy"- which is only 8-10 days developed. That is very good. Tastes like a meaty hard-boiled egg. Nothing "gross"- you can hardly tell it's a developing egg. I love those.

 
At 11:36 AM , Blogger Daisy's Mom said...

Thanks for sharing your balut experience. I would definitely try one (because I try almost anything, ask Miss Healthypants or Iwanski), but not one that has been frozen. I believe I prefer my balut fresh, if I am able to have a belief about balut. Maybe you and I could go to the Philippines to get our hands on some fresh embryo. Sounds like an adventure.

Great blog!

 
At 12:40 AM , Blogger John Love said...

Thank you for sharing the balut experience.
I used to avoid dealing with balut because I always feel that I am committing some sort of an abortion on some innocent helpless creature.
However, due to bad business, I am forced to take another look at selling balut in our store.
Here is what I found out:
1) In producing balut, the incubators are set to turn the eggs less frequently. This means less consumption of electricity, less wear and tear on the machines, and less labor cost. But the chicks have less chance to hatch and survive.
2) 14 day old balut have smaller chicks and a larger albumen, it is not as tasty, it is about the size of a teaspoon, and is less common in the market. 18 day old balut have larger chicks, a smaller albumen, taste better, and is preferred by most customers.
For personal consumption, I prefer the 14 day old balut because I am turned off by the sight of a developed chick. You can also steam it if you want it to have a stronger aroma.

 
At 12:45 AM , Blogger John Love said...

Thank you for sharing the balut experience.
I used to avoid dealing with balut because I always feel that I am committing some sort of an abortion on some innocent helpless creature.
However, due to bad business, I am forced to take another look at selling balut in our store.
Here is what I found out:
1) In producing balut, the incubators are set to turn the eggs less frequently. This means less consumption of electricity, less wear and tear on the machines, less labor cost. But the chicks have less chance to hatch and survive.
2) 14 day old balut have smaller chicks (teaspoon sized), larger albumen, it is not as tasty, and is less common in the market. 18 day old balut have larger chicks, smaller albumen, taste better, and is preferred by most customers.
For personal consumption, I prefer the 14 day old balut because I am turned off by the sight of a developed chick. You can also steam it if you want it to have a stronger aroma.

 

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