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Balut – Introducing the weird and wonderful snack (do YOU dare?)

Balut is somewhat the controversial dish! Almost every culture has food that raises the odd eyebrow or is considered just plain gross. It can also be spelt Balot!

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What is balut food?

We introduce the balut egg Well, it’s a hard-boiled duck, or chicken egg. Sounds innocent right? Well said egg is fertilized and then allowed to develop for up to 20 weeks. And that’s when you eat it.

At 20 weeks the duck had developed body parts, like eyes, beaks and indeed feathers. That’s right you’re being asked to eat a duck foetus. Although it is obviously not fully developed, but when you eat it you can taste beak and feathers. Relax it really is not that bad!

In fact, balut food can be found throughout Asia. I’ve personally had it in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, but in the Philippines they take fertilized duck egg very seriously. Basically balut is the national dish of the country and they really do not get what all the fuss is about when foreigners think it is strange!

balut food

You will find it on almost every street corner, anywhere that has street food in the Philippines, and from vendors pushing about their food trucks.

In many ways it’s sad people get so grossed out, and that it’s considered “exotic”. In fact, it is pretty damned delicious. Yes I actually like it.

How do you eat balut?

You crack the egg at the hollow end of the shell (this is important), take off the top, add salt and vinegar, and then drink the juice like a shot. That’s right a shot of duck fluid, vinegar and salt. It is the vinegar that really sets this dish aside from other varities of the region – yes the Philippines truly has the best fertilized duck egg!

Cambodian balut food

What does balut taste like?

Which came first the chicken, or the egg? This is a good question with balut! It’s halfway between a chicken and an egg, but it’s a duck (I’m confusing myself now). But basically that is how it tastes. You do get an egg type vibe. It certainly does not taste like meat per-se either. In fact if you were going to compare it to any meat it would taste a bit like offal, offal, not awful you understand. It is not too gewy and is even a bunch crunchy. You can taste beak and feathers (to and extent), but whilst it is unique it is also very tasty.

balut in the philippines

When do you eat it?

Not all Filipinos eat it, but most do, and it tends to be an “after sundown” thing. It’s said it’s because it looks so bad (and thus needs to be unseen). I have a different theory. Pizza, kebab, chips. Every country needs a late-night drunk food. The Philippines has balut!

And actually it really does work as a late night snack. If there are bars there will be street vendors selling balut outside. I definately enjoy this dish more drunk than when I am sober!

Oh and if the duck were not already the most unlucky animal in the Philippines, another delicacy is 2-day old duck! This can be tried in Sagada. It is quite chewy and spicy!

Is it an aphrodisiac?

Whenever you get a food in Asia that is a bit weird, or gross then people claim it is an aphrodisiac ! We truly live in weird times.

I personally can’t say if it works for that, or not as I’ve usually had a drink when I eat it, not that I am sure that makes a difference though. Many though do swear by the sexual virility it gives the man.

As usual, I digress. Ironically balut can, therefore, be found in most red-light districts, such as Angeles City, Subic Bay, or Ermite. In fairness they also sell Viagra on the same streets, so quite what gets the job done is anyone’s guess.

Balut around the world!

It is not only the Philippines where this is eaten and as stated I have had it in China, Vietnam and indeed Cambodia. It is thought that balut originally came from China, from where it spread throughput south-east Asia. Balut was first introduced to the Philippines in 1885, from where it has morphed into the dish it is today.

Vietnam and China

In Vietnam and Cambodia they eat it somewhat differently. In Cambodia it is known as pong tia koon. You eat it without the vinegar of the Philippines, but with a traditional Khmer vegetable served exclusively with the dish. You also drink the juice in Cambodia, although without the vinegar it is a lot more intense than its Filipino cousin. The Vietnamese do it in a similar way and I remember accidentally buying 3 at a roadside. Like I said, not a daytime snack.

I’ve tried it once in China, in the weird border city of Linjiang. It was pretty good and came with MSG and Chinese hot sauce. Tow ingredients I tend to like. In China it is known as 毛鸭蛋 máoyādàn. Despite originating in China the two dishes are now extremely different.

Now as you might imagine from our description so far, balut tends to be a working-class dish of the people (it usually costs less than 50 cents), but (some) upscale restaurants are trying to put a new take on the dish, but for whatever reason it has yet to catch on to any degree.

Thankfully though, and whilst the masses still view it as being a bit disgusting, we are yet to see the gentrification of balut, but who knows? They’ve tried to gentrify Pagpag, so anything is possible.

Overall though and while it does make it onto most weird food blogs, or lists, the reality is that the dish is really unique, tasty and different. In all honestly if you are happy to eat chicken and egg, then why should balut gross you out?

Written by Gareth

Gareth Johnson is the founder of Young Pioneer Tours, a published writer, and all round entrepreneur. He enjoys street food, and encourage others to get paid to travel the world.

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