There are certain foods out there which can evoke different emotions within our self. A waft of our favorite childhood dish brings a feeling of comfort and transports us back to a happy time or place. When you are prodded by a friend to eat a balut, either your heart pounds with anticipation or your face cringes in horror. Eating one though can give you the much desired ‘star’ point from the locals when you travel to a South Asian country where this egg is a delicacy. They are ecstatic to receive you in their inner circle and you feel mighty proud to join them.
What is really a balut?
Balut is a fertilized egg of a duck or chicken. The duck egg is the one famous as balut though. Its name could have originated from the Filipino word ‘balot’, which means “to wrap”.
At the start of the balut making process, only the egg with thick shell is chosen to ensure that it can withstand the stress of continuous egg removal and placement in containers. The balut maker would lightly tap the egg with his fingers and then listens. A thin-shelled egg emits a brittle sound while an egg with a cracked shell produces a hollow sound. The balut maker would then anxiously monitor the incubation process for he knows that a slight change in heat temperature could affect the embryo development of the duck egg.
The balut which is often sold in the streets is a boiled duck egg between 17-18 days old. One balut vendor that I talked to proclaimed with pride that his balut is the most delicious because it is ‘balot sa puti’ (wrapped in white) and is 17 days old. What he means is that it is at a stage where the duck fetus is still wrapped in its white embryonic membrane. The embryo is weak, thus, the beak, feathers, and bones of the duck are not yet fully developed. It is an ideal stage for eating balut as there would be no feathery bits getting stuck between your teeth.
When a craving of balut hits me, I would wonder why I always need to wait for nighttime for the balut vendor to appear in our street. From the essay, “Balut: Fertilized Duck Eggs and Their Role in Filipino Culture”, Margaret Magat discusses that some local people makes the connection on how we eat balut with the way an aswang sucks the lifeblood out of a human fetus through its mother’s womb. Aswang is a mythical creature in the Philippines folklore, preferring to eat the flesh of dead bodies and unborn children in the cover of darkness. I am thinking that this could be one possible explanation why our ancestors started the tradition of eating balut only at night; it could be from shame or fear because they are going for an unborn fetus even if it is of a duck.
When someone has the chance to throw salt to an aswang, it is a common belief in the Philippines that it would cause their skin to burn. A sprinkling of rock salt on the balut may also stem from the same belief of the purifying powers of salt. If you can successfully eat balut with salt without burning, then you are not an aswang or would never become one. The plus factor is that the salt enhances the taste of balut.
There is something about the balut which creates excitement just by simply being in its warm presence. You know that you are in for an unforgettable experience when you get the chance or gather enough courage to eat it either with salt or spiced vinegar. It could absolutely terrify one person but it could also bring unbridled joy to another.