Balut: The Filipino delicacy that makes the world squirm

Posted on: 11:48 am, February 6, 2014, by

(CNN) — Despite being an object of culinary fascination around the world, balut is no beauty queen.

The 18-day-old fertilized duck egg — a snack widely eaten in the Philippines — has revolted even the most daring foodies with its carnal textures, earning it lofty rankings on many a “most disgusting/strange/terrifying food” list.

While food journalists commonly label balut as the Philippines’ “much loved delicacy,” in reality Filipinos are decidedly split over their nation’s oft-sung snack.

The science experiment you eat

Acceptance of balut often depends on exposure at a young age, much like Vegemite in Australia.

In an apparent attempt to preserve the delicacy’s popularity among the country’s rapidly modernizing and discriminating palates, some schools in the Philippines introduce balut to young students during science classes.

Students use balut to study the anatomy of birds, then eat the compressed bird beak, veins and developing wings within.

“Our teacher made us eat the egg so it wouldn’t go to waste,” says Manila resident Anna Vecin of her ordeal.

“And if we didn’t eat it, we’d get a low score on that day’s lesson. Of course, I had no choice but to eat it.”

The experience can leave some with a lifelong aversion to the so-called national delicacy.

Even balut’s tamer cousin, penoy — an unfertilized duck egg billed as a less carnal option, given that it lacks the semi-developed chick within — can be hard to stomach.

Photo Gallery Expand 1 of 4
  • The only thing left is the yolk. It can be scooped out with a spoon, but many Filipinos prefer to use their fingers. It's easily detached from the shell, veins and all. Some prefer to reverse these steps -- cracking the wider end of the shell to eat the yoke first -- saving the little duckling for last.

  • The egg is boiled or incubated -- more than 18 days for duck eggs and between 13 and 14 days for chicken eggs. Opening it requires making a precise crack on the narrow top of the egg with a spoon and removing only a portion of the shell.

  • Before removing the contents of the egg, balut connoisseurs recommend drinking the warm soup within. It can be quickly slurped through the small opening you've made in the top.

  • The semi-formed bird fetus (pictured) slides right out of the shell. You can eat it by taking a "shot" of the contents, dipping your head back to let the bird slide into your mouth. Some prefer to dip it in a dash of salt or vinegar before eating.

Taste over appearance

For others, balut’s combination of savory soup, fresh meaty bird and warm yolk is a revelation.

“My dad had a duck farm once upon a time in Binangonan, Rizal, so at some point growing up, we had a lot of them at home,” recalls Cheryl Tiu, a Manila-based writer.

“My mom’s parents always enjoyed eating it, thus it got passed on to her and her siblings, and then down to us. My favorite part is the soup. And then I dip the yolk in rock salt.

“Today though, I’m not sure if I can eat the whole chick anymore, unlike when I was much younger.”

The dish is particularly popular among Filipino families with ethnic Chinese backgrounds.

Balut is also widely enjoyed across numerous provinces in China, especially in the south.

Like many Chinese dishes, balut comes with a list of putative health benefits.

Among these, it’s claimed balut can boost male fertility and libido.

Balut in New York

Can’t make it to Manila?

Though balut is hard to find outside the Philippines, New York Filipino restaurant Maharlika offers the delicacy for $5 a pop.

The restaurant hosts an annual balut eating contest, held every August.

Last year’s winner knocked back 27 balut in five minutes.

Think you can do better?

The gallery above offers a few pointers on how to eat balut.

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