Just What is Balut? The Controversial Philippine Street Food

A digital rendering of a duck poking out of an eggshell
A digital rendering of a duck poking out of an eggshell

Image created and owned by Author in Midjourney

I once ate a raw chicken egg at a party on a dare.

While thoughts of Rocky Balboa went through my bravado’d head, I couldn’t help but notice my friend start gagging. As I stood there contemplating the flavor and wondering if I’d get a nice kick of Salmonella, my friend ran off to the washroom to puke.

Years later, I couldn’t help but wonder what he’d do if he watched me eat a balut.

What is balut?

If the idea of cracking open and sucking down an egg is disgusting to you, you might not want to read further. Because imagine instead of seeing a juicy orange bulb surrounded by gelled liquid after cracking the shell, you saw the tiny remains of a hard-boiled duck fetus.

Because that’s precisely what balut is.

Balut is a fertilized egg that’s usually incubated between 14 to 21 days, then hard-boiled in a similar fashion to your everyday chicken eggs.

The history of balut

Historians think balut originally came from Chinese traders who worked in the Philippines in either the 16th century or the 19th. It’s likely an offshoot of an equally disturbing (to some) dish called maodan (毛蛋 or máo dàn).

Whatever time it was introduced, local chefs certainly made it their own. It’s been a famous — or infamous for many foreigners — street food for centuries. These days, it’s even entering into fine dining as a fancy form of appetizer.

You can also find the interesting dish in other countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, although I didn’t run into them while visiting there myself.

Outside of Asia, certain specialty foreign supermarkets often offer balut eggs for home cooking. It’s not delivery, it’s a damn duck fetus, oh!

How is balut prepared?

Simply take an inseminated duck egg, incubate it for 17 days (if you want the ideal period), then steam or boil it just like a normal hard-boiled chicken egg.

Once prepared, crack open the top, pour any combination of vinegar, chili, salt, and pepper inside, sip out the “broth” and pop in the rest for a chunky aftertaste.

The traditional methods incubate the eggs in direct sunlight or under hot sand, then are stored in baskets or buckets of hot sand to keep them warm afterward.

It’s very important to keep the correct level of heat, as the embryo has to develop to a certain stage and will die otherwise. In modern production, the duck eggs are “candled” under light after nine days to ensure the embryo is as desired.

After around 14 days, the embryo starts floating on top of the egg whites, making it easier to eat afterward.

The entire process essentially creates a sort of broth out of the yolk and egg whites, where the duck embryo is slow-cooked over several days. That’s why people who dare to eat it often describe the taste as being enjoyable.

Once finished, the balut egg should be eaten while still warm to get the maximal taste and minimal germs.

What does balut taste like?

Putting aside the obvious shock and horror many westerners feel when first looking at a balut — especially up close — the taste is pretty damn good.

If you search around, people have described eating balut as being similar to an egg, like eating a puffy custard, or even a fluffy version of pudding (I don’t quite get this one — what the hell kind of pudding are people eating?).

Most people tend to describe the embryo itself as tasting like chicken, which seemingly every strange meat in the entire world does.

My own experience with balut

As for why I ate balut?

Well, it involved another party, more beers, and more bravado, of course. Different friend, though. This time it was my cousin.

We were visiting his fiance’s family house on a lovely little tropical island and after a day of snorkeling, ancient motorcycle driving, a rickety bungee jump, and a massive neighborhood barbecue, he bet me I wouldn’t eat a balut egg.

Me being me, I couldn’t resist, although when I placed my eyes on the opened shell I wished I did.

I’d basically bet I would eat a tiny fetus. Hot damn.

But a bet’s a bet, after all. A few moments later, the vendor helped pour some vinegar, salt, and pepper inside and I was taking the meatiest shot of my life.

The liquid went down.

Not bad. Actually, tasted quite good. Almost like chicken soup. Then came the chicken.

I dared to crunch. It crunched back. I cringed. I swallowed.

Heh. Pretty good.

Also tasted like chicken. But I don’t think I’ll be eating it again.

Note: I didn’t include any actual photos of balut eggs as it can be jarring to some, but if you’d like to see them, here’s a bunch.


J.J. Pryor

Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

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