Benito Vergara

On eating balut.

In Pinoy on April 9, 2003 at 5:30 pm

(Inspired by recent balut-related e-mail from Lia at cheesedip.com and Caterina at Caterina.net, I thought I’d write this.)

Balut. That much-loved, much-maligned Filipino delicacy: favorite of beer drinkers all over the country, degree zero for culinary nastiness (used as a stunt on TV’s Fear Factor, apparently), the dreaded food test for the Kano (and Filipino American, as my students tell me).

Say it: balut. Ba-lut. Your lips gently press together at the beginning, your tongue flicks quickly up towards your palate, your lips move as one in the shape of a narrow ooo, and ends with your tongue teasingly poking behind your teeth.

(This is, however, in contrast to how balut is sold in the Philippines, by ambulant vendors who yell in the streets, “Ba-luuuuuuuuuut!”)

But there is nothing sensual per se about balut; it is, after all, an aborted duck fetus. As opposed to, say, eating an ordinary chicken egg with yolk and all, the balut is already fertilized and ready to go, as it were, with an actual, healthy, living duck embryo (incubated up to 18 days in a hatchery). And this where, of course, the balut gets its notoriety: the duck really looks like a duck, eyes, pink little limbs, gray feathers, useless beak and all.

Duck embryo in the shell,
I pluck you out of the shell; –
Hold you here, beak and all, in my hand,

My fondest memories about balut had more to do with buying them. They were always sold late at night (my father would bring them home after playing mahjongg until midnight), but sometimes we would go out ourselves. In Los Banos they were sold by this gaunt, gray-haired woman who would squat by the side of the road. The balut would be swaddled in cloth, and nestled in an old wicker basket; the woman would carefully unwrap the rolled-up blanket that kept the eggs warm, give us a thimbleful of salt in a twist of recycled graphing paper, and count her money in the light of the candle anchored with melted wax on the pavement. (I remember these were windless, humid July nights.) We would then ride home, feeling the heat of the eggs in our laps.

Instructions for eating balut:

1. Boil water gently in a pot, and put the balut in it for a few minutes.
2. Untwist the salt and put it in a dish. (A dipping dish, the kind used for soy sauce or patis, works very well.)
3. Hold the balut upright and, with the underside of a spoon, make a crack at the top of the egg.
4. Chip away pieces of eggshell with your finger until you have a hole about the diameter of a finger. (This could be bigger, it depends.)
5. Sometimes you’ll see some kind of gauzy membrane. Pierce it.
6. You can peek inside the balut now and see broth. Is this albumen? (I always preferred to think of it as amniotic fluid.)
7. Tip the egg to your mouth and suck out the amniotic fluid.
8. Continue removing the eggshell. Depending on how you cracked it open, you may then see an undifferentiated mass of stuff that feels like slightly runny, soft-boiled egg in texture. Dip the stuff in the salt and eat it.
9. Or you may encounter a hard, spherical section that looks like a seed. Throw that away. (My godmother swears that it’s all calcium and good for you, but it’s tasteless and hard for me.)
10. Or you may finally get to the jackpot: the duck fetus. You may pick it up by the head — at which point the body unrolls from its fetal position and its little legs dangle — dip it into the salt, and pop it into your mouth.
11. Wash down with a cold bottle of San Miguel beer. (I think I may have been drinking it with milk when I was in elementary school — now that sounds disgusting. Balut and milk…)

Answers to frequently asked questions:

1. Yes, you can feel the feathers on your tongue.
2. As a former (white) professor discovered (he was being administered the balut test), entering a pitch-black closet so you don’t have to see it makes no difference. You can still smell the faint, slightly gamey, deliciously menstrual aroma. (Also see #1 above.)
3. No, the duck’s eyes are closed.
4. Of course it’s dead.
5. No, I have never been able to buy good balut in the United States, and I won’t try to. One time my schoolmate Tim (can’t remember his last name, but he lived in Mountain Province once and was studying Heidegger and Japan for his dissertation), Jenny Franco (I wonder where she is now), and I drove to Queens to Roosevelt Avenue to buy Filipino food. I bought a six-pack of San Mig and two balut eggs, which were simply horrible — they were all pinkish and looked under-incubated, and they tasted rotten.
6. No, you can’t pop the whole thing in your mouth. To begin with, there’s too much, unless you have a big mouth. You have to separate the balut into its component parts to appreciate it, and that requires reverent contemplation of the duckling, forever asleep.
7. Yes, it tastes great and I miss it.

  1. balut

    James recently posted a link to Ray’s List of Weird and Disgusting Foods over on consumptive.org, and so like probably…

  2. I loved reading this. I am 1/2 Filipino and have never tried balut. A friend is coming over today to show me how it’s done!

  3. I was just at an oriental market last night and noticed that they had balut (duck and chicken). That and reading your blog entry remind me of my Navy days and nights out in the barrios. We would squat on the side of the road by the binjo ditch eating balut and buying them for the little kids that flocked around us. I’m tempted to get some friends and go to the oriental market for some balut and reminiscing, but after reading about your experience with American balut I’m having second thoughts. Any suggestions?

  4. [...] Balut, however, is a little different. It’s a fetal duck, served in its egg, with a few feathers here and there for your culinary pleasure. The method of eating involves a “hearty slurp”, but you can find more detailed instruction if you’re up for the adventure here. [...]

  5. [...] any feathers and the bones are virtually non-existent. In Vietnam, however, the ideal age for a Balut is between 19 and 21 days – the Vietnamese prefer to wait until the fetus can be readily [...]

  6. I am American, but live in the Philippines… I think it is one of the best foods here

  7. you must be sick to even think its good for you,,,
    but no one ever had much more then 3 brain cells to eat most any of the food that come from the Filipino kitchen
    the health risk is a no brainer…. but most don,t know that

  8. This is just wrong. And very gross.

  9. i love balut. and to all you white people, why are you looking at this, just go away and stop trolling.
    but i just slurp the juice and eat the egg part. my dad always eats the duck. i miss balut ):
    @willsmith go away troll. no one wants your opinion.

  10. To our american friends here,
    Don’t get me wrong but balut is far more healthier than of your hamburger…

  11. I’m trying to learn to eat Filipino food; an American friend who spends part of each year there loves balut, so I want to try it..

  12. Americans like their e-coli burgers! Mmm very good huh Americans? Salmonella chicken also big delicacy in America. Funny how Americans say other cultures food is unsafe and gross. Ha ha! You don’t see Phillipinos dying their old meat red to market it, and injecting chemicals and sodium into their chicken and everything else.

  13. Balut, is very tasty. It is a turn off to most “kanos” because, unlike the food in the US, it looks like what it is…..a young duck.

    Some, if not most Americans, like not knowing what their food looked like when it was alive..

  14. I spent about 2 months in the Philippines on business (i was in Cebu) and i was made to try Balut. Now i think the idea if eating a duck fetus was the hardest part to get past, that is until i actually put the thing in my mouth. Oh my god, it was awful, i nearly lost my already eaten lechon and some tapan. It tasted salty and gross and the consistency is awful. Now don’t get my wrong, some of my friends out there love it, but it wasn’t for me. But i will try something at least once, but i don’t think i will ever be trying it again. After my second bite, i finished my San Miguel light and gave the rest to my friend, who finished it in amazing fashion. Each culture has their own weird delicacies but this one was not for me, but hey im not saying don’t try it. Make a call for yourself.

  15. If you are eating feathers, then, you got ripped off. That duck embryo is too old and is on its way to pre-school.

    I remember when we were on an ocean liner on our way to the southern Philippines, we stuck our heads out of the window and bought some balut (baluts?) from a vendor who had to toss the eggs up to us while we tossed our money down to him. We got ripped off but there was no way to get a refund. By the time we could get off the ship, the dude would have been loooonnggg gone.

    The duck’s feathers were very, well, feathery (and ticklish) and I almost broke my teeth on the beak it was so hard.

    Anyway, a perfect balut is simply golden. :-) but balut ripoffs are simply that, ripoffs. pisses me off just thinking about it.

  16. I was looking up ‘Delicacies of the World’ when I found this. I sometimes look things up out of curiosity, boredom or whatever… i’m am an American but not white. I’m Latina. I’m ONLY stating that to proved a point; race shouldn’t matter. There are different customs all over this blue marble we ALL live on as well as traditions and foods. No one should say that eating certain things is “wrong” and no one should put down any nation or group of people because of cultural differences.

    I was really enjoying reading about the subject that I googled and then enjoyed reading the comments. That was until I got down to the disrespectful stuff. A lot of people are ignorant towards other cultures. For that reason, their response will always be “My way is right; your way is wrong!”. Instead of attacking back the close-minded people of the world and spreading the negativity, try to gently open their minds. As for those people that don’t have much worldly experience, I suggest not being so crude with responses about things you don’t understand.

    I am not an adventurous eater but, I am a curious reader. I don’t think that balut will ever be on my plate, however, I thank the people that contributed their experiences about it. I really enjoyed learning from you.

  17. @atrojanedbruin LOL at “..on its way to pre-school” That’s golden. But yes, it is a bit icky when there are too many feathers

    Sometimes while eating balut I would play with it first, pretending I was a monster, then pick up the chick, flap its wings and say “mommy mommy save meeee!”, then I’d chomp off the head.

    Addendum to the instructions:

    #4, we *always* put a few grains of salt in the whole before slurping the “balut soup”. I don’t know why.
    #9, we called it the “stone” of the balut. I think that’s actually the egg white, but all kinda grown up.

    Btw, I think the Vietnamese also have this as a delicacy as I’ve seen it in a few Vietnamese stores here in Sydney. Hopefully they have it as well in the US.

  18. Wow, so if you’re an American you’re stupid. And if you don’t like Balut you should die. I grew up eating dingle berries and if you don’t like it you’re a dumb American! DIE!! AHHH!!

  19. I love to eat BALUT and dip with spicy vinegar and salt.

  20. [...] (blog on how it’s cooked) is a fertilized duck egg that is hardboiled and eaten, usually with vinegar/chili sauce. It is [...]

  21. [...] peeling off the top of my 16-day-old balut to reveal a harsh looking yolk in liquid, I sprinkled some salt and bit in. Bobbi trying balut in [...]

  22. at which point the body unrolls from its fetal position and its little legs dangle ……..
    You can peek inside the balut now and see broth. Is this albumen? (I always preferred to think of it as amniotic fluid.)…..
    You can still smell the faint, slightly gamey, deliciously menstrual aroma….

    these quotes are added for purely shock factor and not descriptive of any epicurean adventure.

    this is not dialog that describes eating ‘food’ ….this is a moron being gross.

    I was raised in Hawaii where cultures and foods are very diverse. this blogger does a disservice to Filipino’s and ethnic cultural foods everywhere.

  23. To JAN, who says that “hamburger” is an unhealthy American food. Do you not even recognize the language of the word? It’s clearly German. And as for your claim that it’s unhealthy, I’d have to say that depends on how it is prepared. Lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber (pickles), wheat, and beef. What’s so unhealthy about that? The only unhealthy part that might come into the process is if the beef is fried, and any fried food is going to be bad for you. So, please, try to actually think about something before you make silly statements like that.

  24. Absolutely repulsive

  25. We know Oahu’s Windward Community College always has wild chickens with a clutch or two of chicks in various ages. But we could never find the eggs. Yesterday we finally found a nest with 15 eggs and took all but one home. Not knowing how developed they were I tried to fry the first one, but when a twitching embryo plopped into the pan it just spattered hot oil everywhere. It was the perfect stage, just a bit of downy feathers and still a good sized yolk too. Boiled the rest for awesome free range organic balut. My kids tried the yolks and heads for fun, but they liked legs the best. Could not get them to eat a whole body but it’s a good start :) Much better than paying $5 at the swap meet.

  26. I lived in the Philippines for 2 1/2 years, though I never tasted balut it was ny boyfriends favourite… he liked a 16 day old fetus because it was developed but not ultra crunchy.

    Classic is that you can buy it in Australia at selected asian supermarkets…

    It is only duck so I am sure it is not a sbad for you as a cheese burger is lol

  27. YOU ARE FUCKING GROSS!

  28. Ya, this is definitely unusual and sort of proves that certain cultures would eat anything. It probably isn’t that healthy just because of the way it’s kept. Food like eggs need to be refrigerated all the time, and incubating them only makes it worse. A cheeseburger is fully cooked. But I’ve seen on TV at asian food markets they sell anything and call it edible, they would even eat a dog’s genitalia.

  29. Ignore the haters. Every culture has that one dish that makes others cry “Gross!”

    Considering that most Americans are just a couple generations removed from places in Europe where people eat whole sheep heads, maggot-infested cheese, and fish that have been half jellified, there’s not much room to complain about balut.

    Especially given that ‘rich people’ food is lobster (ah, cockroach of the sea!) and paté (globby liver of an overfed duck)!

  30. Disgusting, but to each their own I suppose.

  31. I first tried (chicken) balut in Olongapo on a dare from one of my Filipino friends, a shipmate on a US Frigate . . . and had another! And another!

    As I tell my friends: You eat eggs, right? You eat chicken, right? This is just both of them at the same time!

  32. Haha! This is way too cool. Im probably never going to eat it because it actually looks like a duck,but it sounds really awesome.

  33. This is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of! But I dont really know why…because I am not vegetarian. But poor little baby! Still….if it tastes great with salt I may have to work my way up to it one day!

  34. While I’ll admit I personally find the idea disgusting, I respect other people’s cultures and am willing to try anything once ;)

  35. When I first saw balut, like many (white) Americans I was turned off. However, reading you describe it and thinking about it a bit… it sounds pretty good! I don’t think I could slurp up the fluids since I have texture sensitivities, but I could definitely crunch up a little duck fetus if I had the chance. It’s a crunchy little piece of meat, right? All meat comes from animals, so this isn’t much different.

    Ah, I shouldn’t have read this while hungry! Now I really want to try it. Even if it ends up not to my taste, I could at least said I gave it a shot, and be happy knowing that so many others enjoy it. So, thanks for writing this! It’s better to read about balut from someone with an appreciative eye than just on a “list of gross foods” or whatever.

  36. How much does one egg sell for? I am thinking of selling Chicken Balut eggs, but want to know if the cost of the incubaor ($200) for 24 eggs, every 18 to 20 days, will be cost effective. I live in Kahuku, HI. and suspect that I can sell all 24 in one day. Love the comments, so diverse.

  37. My girlfriend also thinks the Balut in Queens (Woodside) totally sucks! I live on long Island (NY) and there are lots duck farms here, a few of which will sell me fertilized eggs.

    To surprise my girlfriend and do something special I would like to buy some eggs and make my own balut for her but, don’t know how long they must be fertilized and for how long to boil them.

    She will be so happy as you can’t get good balut here no matter where we tried. If you can help me with this she will be really happy and will get to have something she only gets to eat when back in the Philippines. Any help or suggestions is really appreciated.

  38. Good thing I did not taste the feathers. During my balut challenge, we ate a 17-year-old balut egg. The balut egg was just Php18 = around US 50 cents.

  39. Hi, I have a question
    What it’s the flavour of Balut?

    And dont you think is wrong to eat a duck fetus when you can eat other things that are much better than that?
    I think it’s wrong! I’m not vegetarian but for me eating an unformed fetus doesn’t make any sense, the flavour must Be good for you but for me looks disgusting (I’m sorry for my English)

  40. @Blue you are wrong ! Sheep heads and half-jellified fish is not in Europe is in arabia and asia, and about cheese with maggots in Italy it was forbidden by law. Don’t talk about you don’t know, I know to much about food and Balut is wrong, it might taste good but it’s wrong like is wrong to eat human fetus in Taiwan, they do it anyway for 50$ 75$, it’s unhuman but it’s a delicacy for rich people. Grow up.

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