I am currently on holidays in the Philippines, and as you can see from this first shot, the place is beautiful. However, last night I had the chance to appreciate one of the oddest eating experiences in my life. Whilst I will write and record more serious travelling science topics in the near future, this is one semi-science, semi-social and all round curious topic that I had to cover.
I had been told that eating duck and chicken embryos, whilst still in their eggs, was something of a tradition, and surely one that I could not miss, having eaten many weird and wonderful things in my time, although never something quite this bizarre.
Balut is a fertilised duck egg with an almost fully developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. It is thought that balut is an aphrodisiac, and in many ways it reminded me of oysters, not least by the fact that the embryo had oyster consistency, and didn't really taste all that great.
Balut is high in protein, and all the other good things that ducks and eggs provide. It is also high in cartilage, which is good for osteo arthritis.
The Australian equivalent is probably the late night kebab, as they are sold by street vendors and often accompanied by the vast consumption of beer. Indeed, this is how I tackled the obstacle - on the back of the Philippine beer "Red Horse" which is San Miguel beer with gin added making a highly potent combination.
The eggs themselves are a combination of solids, liquids and gases - a veritable treasure trove of textures and flavours. I was a little too sheepish to sip the broth surrounding the embryo - I guess that it is the embryonic fluid. I tackled the yoke first, which tasted like normal boiled egg, just without all that nutritional value that was helping the embryo grow. This was followed then by a glass of Red Horse quickly consumed, and a glass of water, as the most confronting obstacle, the embryo, lay in wait. Thankfully, it slid down rather easily. I wouldn't say that I enjoyed eating the balut - indeed, if you wanted duck and egg, I think it would taste better to get yourself an unfertilised egg, and grown-up duck, and combine them in an omelette.
There is a science behind the production of balut. Fertilized duck eggs are kept warm in the sun and stored in baskets to retain their warmth. After 9 days, the eggs are held to a light to reveal the zygote inside. About 8 days later the balut are ready to be cooked.
So I'm glad that I can say this is one eating experience I have had, although I don't think I'll be back for more. I am told that it is much nicer if you don't dissect it, as I did, and just eat it all quickly washed down with San Miguel. That sounds about right. But I still can't quite get my head, or stomach, around the little bones and feathers that I had to spit out...