Cruisin' for Balut
Some time ago on the NY "Crave" board the "Food of Doom" thread, which began as a rant on Natto, begat a discussion of Balut, the Asian foodstuff particularly associated with the Philipines, i.e. boiled, fertilized duck eggs.
Ever curious, I tried to find Balut in L.A. Filipino restaurants (Barrio Fiesta, etc.). No luck, all I got was suspicious looks from the waitstaff. However...we cruise frequently and each cruise I have asked the predominately Filipino deck staff if they knew where to get Balut at our port stops. Again, no luck, until last week. My skillful tutors, Gilbert and Jay, both from Manilla, knew of a source in Vancouver and one afternoon we had a Balut-Fest. My initiation was three Balut, one without any sauce or condiment, one with a very agreeable sauce of vinegar, black pepper and lemon juice, and one with sambal as a condiment.
My teachers taught me: crack the shell of the duck egg (looks just like a chicken egg) by tapping the end with the back of a spoon, then breaking off enough of the shell to enable you to get your small spoon inside. Drink the broth (embryonic fluid) directly from the shell - it was 100% delicious, the most intensely flavored duck stock I've ever tasted. IMO, the best part of the Balut, unfortunately not enough of it.
Then, adding a bit of either vinegar sauce or sambal, you eat the yolk and the duck embryo. The yolk, a golden yellow flaked with red veins, was essentially a hard-boiled egg-yolk, but extraordinarily rich and moist. Delicious. The duck itself was "interesting" and I now understand the suspicious looks received in L.A. I was advised to take the embryo out of the shell and put it into the bowl over which you crack the shell and eat the yolk (so as not to lose any of that great broth) and eat it with a knife and spoon. It was easily recognizable as a tiny duck. Others have posted that one can feel the crunch of the beak, bones or feet, but I did not. These were 17 day old Balut sa puti and had not yet formed the hard skeleton. Some feathers, which reminded me of fiberous celery or asparagus, were not at all unpleasant. The embryo itself tasted like very moist duckling, about three bites.
No unpleasant smell at all. Jay advised me (after he finished laughing that I would even think of eating Balut) to have a strong drink at hand in case I needed to mask the flavor. No need, but strong drinks always are a plus. Mrs. Swift, after photographing the Balut-Fest, was persuaded to try the broth and the yolk. She gave unqualified approval to both but balked at trying the embryo itself.
An interesting experience which proves that persistance pays off.
Oh gawd! I'm fascinated and disgusted at the same time! Great report! If you've ever read Esquire magazine, they have a feature from time to time called "What it feels like..." with articles written by people describing what it feels like to have been through different experiences like being shot, fly a fighter jet, etc. Your post should be in Esquire -- "What it feels like to eat an embryonic duck egg (Balut)."
Here in the Bay Area, balut is easy to find at the farmers' markets (the real ones, e.g. Alemany and U.N. Plaza). Both chicken (6 for a dollar) and duck (50 cents each) are available from the trucks that sell live fowl.
...No way a restaurant like Barrio Fiesta would have Balut. A real hole-in-the-wall place might, but most Filipinos who eat balut buy from a market that caters to Filipinos (or as the previous poster mentioned, from Farmers Markets.)
My Mom used to say, "we eat Balut in private!"
I like the younger balut, myself (penoy).