Balut: The Story of the Ugly Duckling (An Independence Day Special)

Perhaps, there is no other Filipino food more polarizing than balut. The decision to try one is too big a leap from anybody’s comfort to afford a middle ground. It is either you like it or you don’t. CNN called it ” the Filipino delicacy that makes the world squirm” — and for good reason. The sight of an underdeveloped bird embryo (duck or chicken) with its eyes, limbs, feathers and beak boiled, chewed and swallowed can turn the uninitiated’ s stomach inside out.

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Balut is a popular street food among Pinoys — along with pungko-pungko, tempura, kwek-kwek and many others. Balut is usually sold at night. And, as if chewing on aborted bird fetus were not freaky enough, balut vendors (aka suki) usually peddled their shelled goods in lightless alleys in town. The creaking wheels of their bicycles and their eerie chant of “Balooot, baloot!” echoing into the night can make one’s hair stand on end. Why deep into the night? Why in dark shady patches in town? Well, here goes you first lesson in the esoteric art of balut-eating: You shall not look at what you are eating. Your second: Don’t be stingy with the vinegar. 

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Some claimed their fondness for balut started at a very young age. They were literally born to eat balut. One of their most treasured childhood memories was that of their parents taking them to their nightly excursions behind the dim light of some busted street lamp munching on some chicks that never saw the light of day with some dubious characters in silence and dodgy glances.

Others, however, shared a quite conceited and insecure story of unwarranted act of machismo trying to get the approval of their uber-masculine peers. Peer pressure — that is what they called it. These poor eggs gave them the avenue to show how much of a man they were and how they broke out of the shell of that puny and wimpy kid everybody loved to bully around. Balut equals manhood, or so they thought, as if birds and manliness were essentially correlated (pun intended).

You First Balut

If you think the ordeal ends after you have mustered that little courage in you and dragged yourself to where suki‘s bicycle-cum-food cart is parked for the night. Think again. “Pila ka days ato, Sir?”, suki then cements your relationship together in hushed voice and cagey eyes.

Choosing your first balut can be overwhelming. Balut eggs have several variants according to how long these eggs are incubated. They are categorized according to the number of days they are heated during the process of balut-making — whatever it is called. Markings on their shells indicate the variant but they usually differ from one vendor to the other. Your third lesson: Befriend your suki and ask.

1. Penoy: The Underrated Side Kick 

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Penoy is a “failed balut” as others would put it. It is that delicious spot between a hard-boiled egg and balut. Some call it “ang itlog na masabaw” while others name it “ang balut na walang sisiw”. Poor Penoy is stuck in the proverbial unwanted middle.

2. 16-Day Balut 

A 16-day balut is, well, a sixteen-day balut. The embryo has started to form but it is still not really more than a jumbled mass of soft duckling tissues, very soft beak, and hardly noticeable limbs. This may be your best choice for your first balut.

3. 18-Day Balut 

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This is the most popular choice among the great family of balut. The egg embryo is more prominent but not enough to induce evacuation of whatever it was you had for dinner. It is also a popular choice for pulutan.

4. 21-Day Balut 

A 21-day balut has a full-grown duckling inside with all of its avian self: beak, wings, feathers and limbs. This is not everybody’s favorite for obvious reasons. These eggs are literally ducklings deprived of their chance to quack their first…. uhm…quack.

Anatomy of a Balut 

Balut Anatomy
Photo is taken from Pinterest.

How to Eat Your Balut 

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  1. Find the fatter and more rounded end of the egg, and gently break it by knocking it to anything hard. It should be gentle enough not to smash the egg into pieces but hard enough to break a small hole on top of the egg.
  2. You may find a thin membrane beneath the shell. Tear it off so that the embryo inside can be seen through the hole.
  3. Season the broth inside by sprinkling some rock salt and vinegar to taste. Bottoms up.
  4. Suck the egg dry of broth and break the remaining shell to expose the rest of the egg. Sprinkle some more salt and vinegar. And, the egg — in all of its yucky/yummy glory — is all yours for the taking.
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If your suki is worth his salt, he would  have a rag and some Downy ready for you to clean after your mess when you’re done. You know, leave no trace.

The Philippines is a country of weird but delicious cuisines. Traveling to the country is never complete without partaking in its weirdness. Don’t worry, my friends. We won’t get offended if you puke while you are at it. It is part of being Pinoy. It is indeed more fun in the Philippines.

P.S. Don’t forget to try Ekit’s pochero and Azul’s tuslob-buwa.

 

 

marjodegoro

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