Rhapsody in Balut

[Flipping a coin to choose between "ducks" and "clowns."]

Joey: Ducks is "Heads", because ducks have heads.
[a long beat]
Chandler: What kind of scary-ass clowns came to your birthday?

Friends, “The One With the Baby on the Bus” (11/2/95)

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Today I had a surprise adventure!

RambutanThe school in which I work has several Filipino teachers, and they know that I once had a roommate with Filipino roots, and that I enjoyed some of the food she made, and so every now and again when they make something traditional, they’ll bring some to me to try. So we’ve had Adobo together (no relation to the seasoning you can get from Goya), Pancit, a noodle dish whose name escapes me, and a few exotic fruits, including one called Rambutan, which you can see in the picture to the left. “Rambutan” literally means “hairy”, which refers to the coarse“hairs” that grow from the fruit. To eat a Rambutan, you hold it in both hands and, with your thumbs, you squeeze down and pull apart at the same time. The skin just splits open, leaving this white fruit inside. It’s got the approximate taste and texture of a grape, but beware the huge seed inside. Anyway, it’s tasty, although I like them chilled, which will brown the hairs a little bit.

So a couple of years ago we were talking about some of the foods I’d heard of, and some I hadn’t, and one of them brought up Balut. They were surprised to learn that I’d actually heard of it, but the only reason I knew anything about it at all was because I’d seen them eating it on Survivor. Balut is basically a working-class street food in the Phillipines, and I’m told that it’s most often sold in the evening from roadside stands. It’s basically a hard-boiled, fertilized and incubated duck egg.

Wha-a-a-t?

You read that correctly. Duck eggs are fertilized and then incubated, so that a duck embryo begins to form inside. The longer the egg is incubated, the more formed the baby duck will be. However, Balut is always eaten while the bones are still soft enough to be eaten whole. You can buy the eggs based on how long they’ve been incubated. The most popular eggs are about 16-18 days old. The egg is then hard-boiled for about thirty minutes and finally plunged into ice water to stop the cooking. The eggs are served cool, or lightly warmed, and usually with beer.

So there we were, chatting about Balut and I’d said something about how I’d heard of it and I thought it would be a cool thing to try. They thought this would be pretty hilarious, and set their plans to get me some Balut. As it happened, their first attempt fell through, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We were at a staff function and they didn’t realize that I had to leave early. It seemed like the matter was largely dropped. Until…

…this afternoon! One of the teachers came in and said, “By the way, I brought some Balut today, if you still want to try it.” Are you kidding? This is going to be wild! What a break in my otherwise routine day! She went back to her classroom and came back with two eggs, saying we needed a container to warm them up. I broke out my soup mug and we put the eggs into it, then covered them with water and microwaved them to get them warmed up a little. Then I took the cup out to the water fountain and drained off the water. In the meantime, a couple of my officemates gathered to watch the hijinks. The photos, incidentally, were taken by the co-worker who brought in the Baluts.

Eggs in cupCup O’ Baluts.

I had done a little research on how you’re supposed to eat a Balut, and so I had an intellectual idea of what was supposed to happen. The first thing is that you take the egg, which is just a little larger than a typical chicken egg, and turn it “blunt” side up. There’s a little space in there, between the egg’s shell and the top of the cooked embryo. You break out the top of the egg, and there’s supposed to be some broth inside, floating on top.

Tapping it open

If you watch videos of people eating Balut for the first time, they usually just sip it out of the top. And they usually say it tastes just like chicken broth. So here I am in the photo at left, carefully tapping the end off the egg with a fork so I can expose the broth. By the way, my hair is a complete wreck because I just ran a wet brush through it this morning without using any stuff to hold it in place.
No broth inside

Unfortunately, and it’s tough to see in this picture, there wasn’t any broth in the top of the egg. Sad for me, but I was told that that’s not atypical.

Peeling away some more shell So I started peeling away the shell. Inside was essentially textured like a hard-boiled egg, except instead of white albumen, I was treated to a grayish-tan color with blue lines shot through it (proto-veins?), mottled with yellow in spots. I was being careful about removing the shell, and my assistant asked me if I was delaying on purpose. I said, “Yeah, a little.”
About to bite So in this pic the egg is pretty much peeled and I’m about to take my first bite.

One of the reasons I was a little hesitant was that, while I knew intellectually that the egg had been boiled, I somehow hadn’t counted on the egg being so much like a hard-boiled egg. And while I do like eggs, I don’t much like hard-boiled eggs. Ah, well.

One down One bite gone. So far it just tastes like hard-boiled egg. So at this point I opt to add a little salt and pepper to it.
That's duck in there Another bite or two down. See that dark spot in there, the brown area near my thumb? That’s the baby duck. It doesn’t look like much of anything, though.

It’s at this point that my co-worker scrutinized my egg and opined that my egg was roughly 11-12 days into the incubation process.

Jones can't deal My assistant just can’t deal with this. She thinks the whole idea is gross.

Starting to fall apart

At this point there’s maybe one or two bites left, but the different components are also separating, so the whole thing is falling apart. Now the flavor is like boiled egg, but with a definite poultry overtone, too.
One bite left At this point, the only reason I’m struggling with this is because I just don’t dig the hard-boiled egg thing, but I’m determined to finish it. The Balut tastes fine, but the texture of the egg put me off. My assistant gets me a can of Coca-Cola so I can wash it all down (because it’s a little dry, after all).  

I finally take what’s left and shove it into my mouth.

Achievement Unlocked!

So I finally got to try Balut, and that was cool fun. Have you had any weird food adventures?

One thought on “Rhapsody in Balut”

  1. The Balut I’ve seen on travel shows have a much more developed duck- there’s hair and beak and a face. It guess that’s the 16 day incubated duck. I think you got off easy but I’m still giving you credit for facing it at all. I think it may be the world’s most disgusting food.

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