Balut, an Asian delicacy popular in the Philippines, is a fertilized egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is traditionally made with duck eggs, but balut also comes in the chicken variety. While I have an undeniable love for eggs — fried, boiled, scrambled, cooked any and every way, I had never considered eating an embryo until my Filipino friend Louie sang praises about balut. The idea of slurping a duck fetus straight from its shell both intrigued and frightened me. Sadly, during my summer in Asia, I never got to try any balut. But all of was not lost. My chance arrived two years later, in an email from Chef King of umi NOM. I clicked open the email and read:
“Duck Balut tonight @ umi nom!!!”
And just like that, I was headed to Brooklyn.
Despite the rain and wind, I made it alive to Fort Greene, Brooklyn that night. My eating companion Gary and I sat down at a table and prepared ourselves. Half expecting to see an alien-like entree, I was pleasantly surprised when out came two unassuming eggs, snugly tucked in a makeshift double egg holder made from a folded white napkin. The eggs were accompanied by four different sauces — fish sauce speckled with flecks of chili, sea salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.
Chef King instructed us to crack open the top of the egg and pour in a few small spoonfuls of each sauce. We were told to eat everything…except the rubbery disk at the bottom. (“You don’t want to eat that.”)
Right as I was about to begin eating, I peered into the murky waters of the balut, barely making out a little chick fetus embracing the yolk. “Now or never”, I thought to myself. Without further hesitation, I spooned my first few sips of the watery balut liquid.
Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my first sip wasn’t strange at all. Rather, it evoked a familiar taste reminiscent of an earthy duck soup. It took more courage to get myself to try the embryo, which more closely resembled a science experiment gone awry than a baby chick. Helplessly clinging to the yolk, it was almost begging not to be eaten. But that didn’t stop me. I managed to break off a small piece with my spoon and take my first bite. The smooth and delicately gelatinous embryo melted in my mouth, leaving a rich and robust taste, like a smooth pate, that lingered on after it was already on its way down into my stomach.
Mixed in with the correct ratio of condiments, you’ll hit the fundamental flavors of Filipino cuisine — salty, robust, with a kick of sourness at the end; the result is a pungent yet poetic combination of flavors that is uniquely Filipino.
Looking back, eating balut is really not as intimidating as it seems. Eating bird embryos may not be for everyone, but it was an experience I certainly don’t regret having. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to returning for a second helping.
**Balut is not regularly on the menu at Umi Nom, so if you are daring enough to try it for yourself, check in with the Umi Nom Twitter to see when Chef King is cooking some up.