Name – “balut”

What it really is – boiled duck foetus

Location – Samantha’s house, Manila, Philippines

On a trip to Manila in May this year I was invited to try something called “Balut”. I’d seen it advertised on home-made signs at the side of the road and in shopping centres. Samantha, who took these pictures, told me what it was – a boiled fertilised duck egg, almost ready to hatch.

There’s an explanation and better photos at

I had to try it.
A few eggs were fetched from the nearest stall along with a small bag of rock salt and instructions to “eat them while they’re hot”

They looked fairly innocuous on the outside, of course. The first task was to get the egg open, which was done in the usual boiled-egg-with-soldiers manner. Instead of a boiled egg there was a reservoir of dark brown liquid

…which I had to suck out…

It tasted fairly strange – a little like chicken stock, but not really definitively edible. I would have made more notes on this part, but I was thinking too much about what was to come.
The shell was very thick, like a shell. I cracked it open with the spoon and with moderate difficulty. After a good peeling I was left with this –

It looked a bit like a brain – a yellow, eggy, duck brain, with smaller brown bits. It’s a shame the picture here isn’t clear enough to make out the features clearly, but it had a little head with a little yellow beak poking out.
I thought I’d start with the other, non-beaky, side.

I had expected it to taste a bit like scrambled egg, but it didn’t. Even with a bit of salt it was deeply strange. The development of the duck had changed the chemical composition of the yolk somehow. It was around a second after it went into my mouth that I realised that I could feel something strangely textured against my tongue. Feather. For a second I gagged, then I swallowed quickly. It wasn’t that bad.

Looking down I realised I’d accidentally eaten a good amount of the duck itself and not even noticed. The body had been so soft that I’d munched through a fair amount of feather and bone without realising.
I let myself get the retching out of the way, took a deep breath and went for the head.

It was a bit more chewy and feathery. I was more relieved than disappointed to find that I couldn’t distinguish beak from yolk in the mix.

And then it was all gone, and much the same. Under the fleshy part there was a large hard, rubbery part that I was told not to bother eating, so I didn’t. I passed on the second egg – sometimes you can have just too much of a good thing. All in all it wasn’t nearly as revolting as I’d been warned, just a little strange-tasting and surprisingly textured – somewhere between dry and sticky. I’d been told that the smell was revolting too, but it didn’t offend me.
Next time I try it I’ll take off all the yolk so I can just pop the duck foetus into my mouth. Should be fun.

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