Balut.

Just the word alone strikes fear in a lot of people’s hearts.

Even battle-hardened U.S. Army Rangers have been seen on YouTube videos having second thoughts about eating these things.

For most people, it’s something that’s gross and icky, and they would prefer not to think about it. And believe it or not, some Filipinos don’t even eat balut.

But what exactly is it?

According to Wikipedia, it’s a “developing bird embryo (usually a duck) that is boiled and eaten from the shell. It originated from and is commonly sold as street food in the Philippines.”

It’s a fertilised duck egg that’s been incubated somewhere between 14 and 21 days.

When the balut maker feels that it’s been incubated enough, it’s then boiled. The longer the incubation period, the bigger the embryo becomes, the more it looks like a duckling, and the more grossed out you get eating it.

The trick for first-time balut eaters is to get the youngest balut you can find from the vendor, since this would have a small embryo that’s barely formed, and is a little bit smaller than your thumb.

To eat a balut the right way, you have to crack open the wider end carefully, making a hole about the size of an American quarter. Sprinkle some sea salt into the hole, and maybe add a little splash of spicy vinegar.

Bring the balut to your lips, and sip the liquid inside. The liquid is kind of like a broth, and is very savoury, with some saying it tastes like a good chicken soup.

Once you’ve drunk all the liquid inside, peel off the shell until you’ve exposed the yolk and the embryo.

Again, bring the balut to your mouth and pop the embryo in, and swallow.

For the younger 14-day old balut, there’s no need to chew; the embryo is very soft and the bones have barely been formed.

It’s still gross to look at, though, so you might want to eat it in low light, or with your eyes shut, although I don’t see how that would help since you’d still have the thought of eating an embryo to deal with.

Unless you’re from Vietnam, that is, because Vietnam has its own version of balut called hot vit lon, so you’re probably used to it.

If you’re not, eat it anyway so you can brag about it to your friends.

You then eat the yolk (the yellow part), but I don’t advise eating the white part, which people call bato, which means stone – you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why it’s called that.

To my knowledge, balut was brought over by the Chinese settlers way, way back, and we Filipinos just assimilated it into our culture.

Funny how something that can trace its origins from the Chinese became so “uniquely” associated with Filipino culture, huh?

It’s a popular street food, and it’s become so popular that even some restaurants have started serving balut in other ways: sometimes served as adobo, or sometimes on a sizzling plate.

HOT TIP: It definitely goes great with some beer.

Balut had long gone viral even before going “viral” became a thing: it was featured as a challenge on Fear Factor and Anthony Bourdain had some himself on one of his shows.

Admittedly, balut is not for everyone. It’s really an acquired taste.

It’s a good source of protein and calcium, and it’s been advised by many that eating a couple of balut before having sex does wonders.

But then again, I wouldn’t know!

All that being said, balut is worth a taste, even once in your life.

Like what they say, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, because once you get over the images in your head, I mean, who knows, maybe you’d end up liking it after all.

Words & Photos by Jigs Arquiza

Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood

NOTE: The Bureau chief Matt Cowan, who’s based in Vietnam, promised to write something about hot vit lon as a counterpoint to this, so watch out for that!

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