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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Balut! Balut! Balut!

Balut Balut Balut Header

“Balut! Balut! Balut!” From city to province, all over the Philippines in the late afternoon, early evening, you’ll start to hear this call. Balut is probably now the most well known food to come out of the Philippines, thanks to modern TV programming with people like Anthony Bourdain and shows like Fear Factor and Survivor, all featuring Balut in recent times. For example contestants of The Amazing Race Asia 2 had to eat 8 Baluts as a team before receiving their next clue.This common snack food in the Philippines consists of a fertilized duck or chicken egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It’s also popular in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Balut or Balot, has it’s name rooted in the Austronesian languages of the region, and literally means “wrapped”.

I decided long ago that I needed to sample Balut but that's easier said than done. Overcoming the psychological barriers to place a Balut in your mouth was a lot tougher than I imagined it would be. I first attempted to sample a Balut in 2007 on Manila’s old Bay Walk. I say “old” Bay Walk as at that time there were restaurants and bars with heaps of entertainment right along the waterfront of Manila Bay. But a change in local government power brought in a new mayor a few years back and he shut down all the venues along the waterfront (personally I think that action destroyed the best attraction in all of Manila….). Despite the removal of all the restaurants along Bay Walk, you can still find plenty of Balut vendors along there in the early evening. So this first attempt back in 2007, even assisted by ample San Miguel Pilsener, ended in me backing out unable to get over the visual effect of the embryonic duck.

Old Manila Bay Walkthe old Manila Bay Walk was alive with colour and movement well into the evening, until a new Mayor ordered it’s shut down a few years back.

 Manila Bay SunsetSunset from Bay Walk, over Manila Bay. A popular place and time for the consumption of Balut.

San Mig with Balut  Balut goes well with Beer!

So that brings me to this current visit to the Philippines. With the rising global awareness of this delicacy, Balut has become Haute cuisine of late within the Philippines itself. In Filipino restaurants, Balut is now often served as appetisers, fried in omelettes, cooked adobo style and numerous other methods. So when I saw a Sizzling Balut and Tofu dish on offer on the menu at Gerry’s Grill on Macapagal Avenue near the giant shopping complex Mall of Asia, I realised it was now or never to finally get over it and consume some Balut. I don’t know whether it was the imaginary comfort zone of sitting at a table with friends as opposed to being on a street with a road side vendor, it just seemed the right time to eat Balut for me!

Sizzling Balut Gerrys Grill Sizzling Balut at Gerry’s Grill Manila

Such has become this pop-culture icon of bizarre foods, that it’s starting to turn up everywhere., the remaining remnants of what started as “Mad Magazine copy cat Cracked”, recently listed Balut in it’s top six list of most terrifying foods. Cracked went on to say :

“actually, marketed properly, these eggs could be a damn good motivator. When you've looked death in the face at breakfast time, what the hell else can the day throw at you?”

So what does it taste like? It tastes like a hard boiled egg! Which when you think about it, is exactly how it should taste. Sure it’s got some lumpy bits, and some crunchy bits occasionally, but lets face it, it’s just an egg.

Tanduay Dispenser (Photoshop) Photoshopped image of another popular drop to consume with Balut, the local Rhum, Tanduay!

Now if the Balut is allowed to grow into a live chicken, there are several paths in the Philippines it could take. As with many parts of Asia, Cock Fighting is a popular past time. Evidence of cock fighting certainly predates European arrival in the Philippines. Right across the archipelago, you’ll find cock fighting venues packed to the rafters. Some cities, like Cebu, have massive stadiums for huge tournaments. And outside of Balut, once the chicken grows it can then be made into many awesome Filipino dishes from Lechon Manok, charcoal roasted marinated chicken with local herbs and calamansi, to Chicken Adobo the national dish, being chicken in vinegar, soy and black pepper.

Filipino RoosterChickens, or more specifically Roosters, are prized for fighting in the Philippines

dsc_0213-2.EDIT Cock Fighting at Cebu’s Galleria Stadium

DSC_0217-2 Crowd going wild during Cock Fights in Cebu

DSCN0240 If you can’t stomach Balut, wait till it grows and eat it as Lechon Manok

So when the chance arises for you, and you are offered the opportunity to try Balut, do it! It’s just another type of hard boiled egg! And remember when you've looked death in the face at breakfast time, what the hell else can the day throw at you?”

the Philippines


  1. I was born and raised in the Philippines but I must say balut was never my cup of tea. I've had it twice, the first one was a dare and the other one was to show my Canadian partner that there was really nothing to it, though both times I had to politely excuse myself to throw up :-)

  2. Thanks for dropping by Chowhound. As I said above it took me a few years to be able to eat Balut, but now I have no fear!


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