Basically, it's a fertilized duck egg that's been left to incubate for 17 to 18 days, then boiled to make it safe for consumption. If the words "fertilized" and "incubate" aren't descriptive enough, there's a duck fetus inside the egg, complete with beady eyes (and, sometimes, feathers!).
So what is balut, exactly? Why does it exist in the first place? Let's find out.
History of Balut
It's not really known where balut came from. However, the food is common throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In those countries, it's known as pong tia koun, khai look, khai khao and hột vịt lộn/trứng vịt lộn, respectively.
The method of making balut is similar to that of the Chinese maodan, which led some to theorize that Chinese traders introduced the food into the Philippines, and possibly throughout Southeast Asia. Again, this is all conjecture, and until we can find a definite source/archeological evidence regarding the origins of balut, we will never know.
Beliefs About Balut
Being an egg with a partially/fully-formed embryo, balut is believed to be a potent aphrodisiac and cure for hangover. Some people also eat it as a standalone meal, due to its extraordinarily high level of nutrients. Be careful not to eat too much of it though, lest you send your cholesterol levels through the roof!
How Balut is Eaten
In the Philippines, there are many ways to eat balut. You can season it with salt, vinegar, garlic, chili and pretty much anything that goes well with eggs. To avoid as much mess as you can while eating, follow the steps below.
- Look for the hollow part of the egg, which is usually the pointed bit. Tap it gently with a fork/spoon until it cracks.
- Do NOT crack it all the way through. Otherwise, all the liquid inside will spill out, and you'll have quite the mess to clean. Just make a hole roughly the size of your fingertip.
- Sip the liquid through the hole. You should be able to taste something soup-like.
- Once all the liquid is drained, crack the egg further. Savor the delicious yellow yolk.
- Now comes the tricky part: eating the embryo/fetus. If the sight of its beady eyes makes you feel queasy, pick it out from the egg carefully, and chew it with your eyes closed. Its rich, livery taste might surprise you!
- You can leave the egg white alone. It's quite rubbery and unappetizing, so it's fine to throw it away along with the remaining eggshell.
Not so scary to eat, is it? If you felt queasy from the beginning until the end, then perhaps balut just isn't for you. But if you're more curious about this strange food than before, read on.
Tips When Buying Balut
If you've seen people on YouTube eating balut complete with blood(!), it's likely that they purchased their food from a questionable source. To get the highest-quality balut possible, keep these tips in mind.
- Buy balut from a reputable source. For example, New York City's Maharlika is a Filipino-owned restaurant that sells eggs with smaller embryos. This way, the balut is more palatable for those who don't normally eat it.
- Avoid cooking balut on your own. Despite how it looks, balut actually requires skill to make. Cooked properly, it results in the unexpectedly rich food you've come to know (and, hopefully, love) in the Philippines. Cooked improperly, it results in a bloody mess and a slew of YouTube videos ranting about how gross it is.
- Be respectful of other's cultures and beliefs. Muslims, for instance, don't eat balut, due to their avoidance of any food where the animal has been "improperly slaughtered." Likewise, animal activists aren't very fond of balut either, for obvious reasons.
Other Random Facts About Balut
Need more conversation-starters about balut, other than "Oh my goodness, I can't believe people actually eat this"? Here are a few more interesting tidbits.
- Some schools in the Philippines encourage their students to bring balut to their science classes. After studying the anatomy of the bird (and much hemming and hawing, possibly), students are free to eat the egg afterwards.
- Last April 10, 2015, the Center for Culinary Arts and the Municipality of Pateros prepared the largest serving of balut at 117.5 kg (259.04 lb), bagging them a spot on the Guinness World Records.
- In Canada, balut isn't covered by the "Egg Regulations of the Canadian Agricultural Products Act," meaning it's not subject to the same rules and requirements as chicken eggs. However, they do meet the definition of "hazardous food" within the same country.
Questions? Comments? Raves and rants about the wonder that is balut? Have your say in the section below!