By now it already sounds cliche, but balut remains to be one street food that will make the uninitiated Filipino (and the unsuspecting foreigner) cringe in terror or make his stomach turn.
C’mon, the sight of the hairy, pale duck fetus swimming in its juice, lying on a soft yolk-like bed with its blank eyes staring at you would be nightmare fuel for most people out there.
Balut is one of Western culture’s most trauma-inducing culinary topics. “Fear Factor” shocked its contestants with it. The castaways of “Survivor Palau” ate some. Andrew Zimmern endured eating one. Anthony Bourdain ate it in Vietnam with herbs and a sauce, and he says it’s “not bad”. (But when he did a “No Reservations” episode in the Philippines, he said, “We’re NOT doing balut. Been there. Done that.”) Cracked.com says it’s a dish enjoyed in “the fifth and seventh levels of hell”, in a good way.
Balut-making is native to the Philippines. This is actually a major product in the town of Pateros (in Metro Manila), which is famous for its duck-raising industry. Balut is also common in other Asian countries such as Laos (where it is called Khai Luk), Cambodia (Pong tea khon), and Vietnam (Hột vịt lộn). This is usually sold in the streets at night. Just get yourself a bottle of beer to chug with it and you’re all set. Recently though, some restaurants allegedly serve this as appetizer.
Info overload aside, I’ve seen foreigners freak out when I eat balut in the streets. Balut’s reputation is worse than what I’ve heard, so it seems.
Unlike those on TV who act disgusted as they stare at the balut, the foreigners in the group (most of the tourists with us were Europeans, though one of them was Korean) were cool with seeing one about to be consumed before them. That, or they were just acting brave…
…Until one of the tourists bought a balut. Sure, he was prodded by his Filipina companion to do so, but still. And then the other guys followed.
Our tour guide Ivan Man Dy was quick to point out that “balut eating, step by step” is a good way of cultural understanding. Balut, he assures, is nothing to be scared of.
Ivan demonstrated to the group how balut is eaten: crack the top part of the egg, sip the soup inside the balut (he described the liquid as “nice and sweet”), break the shell halfway, add vinegar or salt to taste, and then much your way through the duck fetus and the yolk. (Munching on the white, rubbery egg part is optional.)
The tourists who ate balut actually liked it. They were even amused with eating it, as they found the egg tasty, and not as yucky or scary as it is always depicted. “Sometimes, Discover Channel has a bad habit of making everything not normal to them look scary,” Ivan said.
And then he uttered the magic words which made balut so exotic-sounding: “It’s good for the knees, and good for the bed.”
And why not? Balut is considered as health food, a cheap source of protein, fat, calcium, iron, and other nutrients. Plus, some say it replenishes lost stamina. Its virility-enhancing properties are still up for debate. The cholesterol content, on the other hand, is catastrophically high.
Ivan mentioned that balut is just one of the country’s exotic foods. Just like in other parts of the world, people eat lizards, intestines, exotic fishes, and field rats, something that the group agrees on. As long as something’s safe, clean and edible, people eat it, I guess.
Balut will always be associated with the Philippines and Filipino cuisine. Never mind the scare factor; even if appearance matters when it comes to food, balut in all its gory glory makes for a nice personal culinary experience. Believe me, balut is better than it looks like. I think I’m gonna get myself one on the way home.
So, craving for a balut now? XD