Thursday, March 3, 2011

Balut - A Filipino Aphrodisiac?

 I actually wrote this in 2003 and came across it. (Jeff is long gone.) Thought it was still worth sharing on a blog post.
You might have seen Balut on Fear Factor last year.  It’s the best known Filipino delicacy.  To Westerners, though, it’s gross.  Who in the world thought of eating a partially formed embryonic duck?  Of course they had to justify this decision by declaring it an aphrodisiac (yeah, right).  In fact the hawkers used to sell them outside the brothel near my grandfather's house in Manila. It’s also very popular as a bar food – to eat while out drinking.  (Probably need the extra fortification.)

Balut is derived from the egg of an itik duck (native to the Philippines).  The eggs would normally hatch after a 28 day incubation. The eggs are collected and kept warm for six days.  At this time they are looked at by the candling method (holding up eggs to a strong light to be able to see through the shell). If the egg is fertilized it is sorted out.  Unfertilized eggs are sold as fresh.  The fertilized eggs are allowed to continue developing to the 14th day.  At this time they are examined again to see how they are doing.  If they are developing slowly, they are pulled out and sold as another delicacy – pinoy.  Pinoy are cooked and are similar to hard boiled eggs.  If the embryo is dead, they sell the rotting eggs as another delicacy – abnoy (double yuck). The eggs that are developing properly are kept up to the 18th day. By this time the embryo has grown and there is an embryonic sack. These are now separated out as balut. The egg is cooked in the shell and then eaten.

I had heard about balut my whole life.  My mother is known to like them and other stuff Westerners would consider gross.  (She had to eat the sheep’s eye at an Arab banquet in Saudi Arabia once.)  I’ve been raised very Americanized, so I have a mental block when it comes to ever wanting to eat one. My boyfriend, Jeff, said he had wanted to try one whenever he got the chance.  His 10-year old son, Tyler, wanted to also.  When I told my coworker, Ray, I was going to get some he said, “get me two!”

Another coworker pointed me in the right direction to a store off Florin Road that specializes in Filipino and Asian groceries.  I went down on Sunday and asked which eggs were the balut.  I was pointed to a stacking of egg flats.  I was told the eggs were still raw and would have to be cooked.  A guy came over to help and told me I should pick the whitest eggs.  He lifted up a couple of flats and selected four eggs for me.  Unfortunately he had a little mishap and dropped a flat. Yick!  Luckily I didn’t see more contents than some really orangey yolk!  He then said I would need to cook the eggs for 45 minutes.
I had called my mother to find out the proper way to eat it.  I also found a couple of websites that gave detailed instructions.  I was told that the balut had to be warm and so I heated them up and then called the guys.  Tyler came bounding up.  He was so excited that he was finally going to get to eat it.  Jeff, on the other hand, took the bar-food statement to heart and cracked a beer. 
First, they had to peel away a small hole at the bottom of the egg where the air pocket was.  There was a membrane inside that needed to be pulled aside.  I told them to add a dash of salt and then they were to down the liquid inside.  “It’s salty,” proclaimed Tyler.

The next step is to peel away about half the shell so that you can take the first bite.  My theory – they don’t want you to get a close look!  Anyway, the guys peeled away some shell and each took a bite.  Tyler was excitedly peeling away, dissecting, and examining the contents.  Jeff was trying not to look.  Tyler tried to gross out his two sisters by showing them the contents.  “Look!  There’s an eye!”, he cried before finishing it off.  What was left was a hardened white that is not supposed to be eaten.  Both Jeff and Tyler cheered their accomplishment and Tyler ran off to call his mom.

“So, what was it like?”, I asked.  Jeff answered with the typical response, “like chicken”. 

I was very proud that they were able to eat it, especially Tyler.  Filipinos say they are delicious, but I’m still not gonna eat it!

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