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Balut in Philippines

A 'balut' is a fertilised duck (or chicken) egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut are mostly sold by street vendors in the regions where they are available. It is commonly sold as street food in the Philippines – a seemingly innocent looking delicacy, Philippines balut is like hot dogs to Americans. It is not uncommon for the Filipino men to gather around in the evening for a drinking session with balut as “pulutan (finger food).

Balut are most often eaten with a pinch of salt and lemon juice, though some balut-eaters prefer chili and vinegar to complement their egg. The eggs are savoured for their balance of textures and flavours; the broth surrounding the embryo is sipped from the egg before the shell is peeled and the yolk and young chick inside can be eaten. All of the contents of the egg are consumed, although the whites may remain uneaten, due to its cartilage-like toughness depending on the age of the fertilised egg. Balut have recently entered haute cuisine by being served as appetisers in restaurants: cooked adobo style, fried in omelettes or even used as filling in baked pastries.

Balut-making is native to the Philippines. A similar preparation is known in China as “maodan”, and Chinese traders and migrants are said to have brought the idea of eating fertilised duck eggs back from the Philippines. However, the knowledge and craft of balut-making has been localised by the balut-makers (magbabalut). Today, balut production has not been mechanised in favour of the traditional production by hand. Although balut are produced throughout the Philippines, balut-makers in Pateros are renowned for their careful selection and incubation of the eggs.

Fertilised duck eggs are kept warm in the sun and stored in baskets to retain warmth. After nine days, the eggs are held to a light to reveal the embryo inside. Approximately eight days later, the balut are ready to be cooked, sold and eaten. Vendors sell cooked balut out of buckets of sand (used to retain warmth) accompanied by small packets of salt.

Duck eggs that are not properly developed after nine to 12 days are sold as penoy, which look, smell and taste similar to a regular hard-boiled egg. In Filipino cuisine, these are occasionally beaten and fried, similar to scrambled eggs, and served with a vinegar dip.

The age of the egg before it can be cooked is a matter of local preference; though usually the ideal balut is 17 days old, at which point it is said to be balut sa puti ("wrapped in white"). The chick inside is not old enough to show its beak, feathers or claws and the bones are undeveloped.