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The Philippines do things differently. Maybe it’s the melting pot of cultures, the whole east meets west meets eats idea. Whether it’s some truly bizarre religious celebrations or just their inability to say no, it’s a unique experience for a tourist travelling to the archipelago.
And no part of this amazing culture is more unique than their cuisine. Heavily influenced by their time under Spain’s yoke, and of course, by local tastes and immigration from across Asia, the Filipino palate is an interesting one.
And no one dish sums up the Filipino food scene more than balut. It’s taking eggs to a whole new level.
In the great traditions of gross food loved by the local people – think haggis or that weird rotten fish the Swedish eat – balut might take the cake. A hard-boiled egg – usually a duck egg – that’s been fertilized and allowed to “develop” for up to 3 weeks before it’s cooked. So yeah, there’s a duck embryo in there.
This decidedly non-vegetarian egg filled with baby duck is pretty confronting the first time you see it, especially as the embryo has developed to the point that it’s clearly recognizable as a bird. They often have eyes, beaks and the beginnings of feathers. Feel free to take a minute to compose yourself.
While the Vietnamese and Thai people have their versions – and the original is thought to have come from China – balut is the most famous egg-embryo combo out there.
But the most amazing thing about balut is not the surprise duck foetus, or even the fact it’s thought to boost sexual performance and fertility, it’s that it’s genuinely delicious.
Once you’ve cracked open the egg you’ll encounter a clear broth so savoury and delicious that some people simply drink it and dump the rest. Add a little salt or vinegar and drain the soup first, or bite and peel as you go to avoid seeing the embryo.
A good balut yolk has a soft texture similar to cream cheese, and it’s not as smell or eggy as your standard unfertilized hen’s egg. And as far as embryo eating goes, if you close your eyes you won’t even know it’s there. You’re not crunching through bones, it’s more like eating a savoury mousse.
It’s most commonly eaten as a snack in the Philippines, with street vendors and corner shops selling them to male customers needing a boost. They’re extremely popular in red-light districts for their, err, aphrodisiac like properties.
But a lot of locals love to throw it into stews and pastries, as they add creaminess and depth of flavour regular eggs don’t.
Despite their popularity in the Philippines, balut is unlikely to follow the well-trodden path of Asian food into the western market. As delicious as it is, it’s going to be hard to sell dead baby ducks to most Australians, so you’ll have to head over to the Philippines and try balut in its traditional setting.