Balut, An Asian Street Food Gem

Balut, An Asian Street Food Gem

Simply put, Americans don't like street cuisine way people in Asia do. Yes, you have your enormous pretzels, chicken and rice dishes from halal carts, and I suppose NYC's famous dirty water dogs count. But none of those compare to balut. Balut, which means "wrap" in Tagalog and Malay, is a partially formed bird embryo, usually a duck, that is incubated for between 14 and 21 days before being cooked and consumed. This treat, which has about 188 calories per serving and 14 grams of protein, is a mainstay at roadside markets in Southeast Asia.

Eating an egg with a little duck embryo inside may feel a little... weird to someone with a more "conservative" palette. But balut is a popular staple in nations like Vietnam and the Philippines and is largely regarded as a delicacy among Asian street foods. It is also said to have aphrodisiac properties. So, how and where did balut begin, and what are the opinions of the locals?

The Balut's Humble Beginnings

The Chinese are where it all begins. In 1885, balut was originally brought to the Philippines, where it immediately gained popularity as a cheap and convenient snack for workers. Then, wherever they went, Filipino immigrants brought this fertilized duck egg with them, and it became popular in places like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Balut is widely used in the Philippines. It is frequently consumed as a late-night snack. As dusk falls, street food vendors sell their wares in the open, frequently calling out "baluuut" to passersby.

There is a good lot of dispute surrounding a cuisine this unique. Balut is regarded as a health risk in nations like Canada because "incubators are conducive to the potential growth of salmonella," though the same thing can be said about eating cookie dough or even eggs Benedict. For instance, Muslims are forbidden from eating fertilized duck eggs because they "come under the heading of eating maytah (something that has died without being slaughtered properly)." However, the stigma associated with balut should be treated with a grain of salt, just like it is with most contentious meals.

According to culinary and travel broadcaster and journalist Kristie Hang, trying the meal can be intimidating. She describes herself as a devotee of balut and has consumed the fertilized duck egg both at home and by the side of the road throughout Asia. Every culture, however, has its own 'strange' cuisine that many find to be an acquired taste, such as the Scots' haggis, the Swedes' surströmming, the Chinese' durian, the Taiwanese' stinky tofu, and the Japanese' natto.

How Do You Eat Balut?

What the heck does this duck egg taste like and how does one eat it are the two main questions. The only ingredients you actually need, according to Hang, are a pinch of salt and a few herbs. Balut is cooked somewhat similarly to a hard-boiled egg. You eat the balut egg while it's still warm after cooking it in boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes. You must fracture the egg's shell and peal a little hole in the membrane of the embryo in order to consume it the traditional Filipino way. Take a drink of the warm amniotic fluid next. After that, peel the egg and eat the yolk and bird embryo by seasoning with salt and vinegar.

Hang argues that there isn't really a right or wrong way to consume balut and that many people eat it with vinegar or chili paste. The only balut you should truly avoid is one that is too old, meaning that the embryo within is too old and the balut is essentially a duck. That can taste "life-ruining," according to her.

How Does Balut Taste Like?

It should taste like a mousse if you locate a good establishment that cooks it, she claims. Incubation timing is crucial for this duck egg, and 17 days of incubation is the sweet spot. "The balut itself should be mild. The yolk portion should taste rich and creamy. The broth portion should taste like an extremely rich chicken or duck soup. If it's undercooked or if the balut is too old, then it can taste fishy or crunchy. That's not what you want!" Eggs that are younger than that should be silky, taste like chicken, and be boneless.

Longer-lived balut may have beaks, bones, or even feathers, all of which are still edible. And in the Philippines, many hold the view that a fetus's level of development determines how macho a person is. Balut is difficult to make at home and requires a strong stomach, but like other exquisite dishes, it all begins with an egg. The correct method for making balut should become clearer after reading this useful advice.