Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Praise the Lord, and pass the balut

As I write this post, I'm watching a rerun of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel.

In case you're unfamiliar with this delightful program, allow me to enlighten you. In every episode, chef Andrew Zimmern journeys to some foreign land (although a handful of shows have been filmed in various parts of the U.S.), finds the weirdest stuff that's being eaten by the local folk, and eats it.

And trust me, there's a lot of weird stuff being consumed on this big blue marble. Hence, Bizarre Foods.

In the episode I'm viewing, Andrew is in the Philippines. Longtime SSTOL readers will recall that I spent a chunk of my youth — two years, to be precise, from October 1973 through October 1975 — in that east Asian archipelago. Seeing this program brings back memories of places I visited, such as the cities of Manila and Pampanga, as well as the Filipino people.

And yes, things I ate.

As Andrew discovered, one of the popular cultural delicacies of the Philippines is balut, a common breakfast food and snack. Balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg, with a partially developed embryo still inside the shell.

I know, I know. Just hang in there with me.

The eggs are boiled on the 18th day following fertilization — I'm not sure what the difference would be if you cooked one on the 17th or 19th day, but that just isn't done — then sold whole in the shell. The diner cracks open one end of the shell, slurps out the juice, then peels off the shell and consumes the baby fowl — eyes, beak, feet and all.

Now to Westerners like you and me, balut definitely sounds like the least acquirable of acquired tastes. In the Philippines, however, balut is comfort food, like your mom's meat loaf or macaroni and cheese.

When we first arrived in the country, we lived outside the confines of Clark Air Base in Angeles City. Bright and early every morning just at sunup, a fellow would come strolling down our street carrying two buckets full of steaming hot balut suspended from a stick slung across his shoulders. The neighborhood people would stream out of their homes at the call of "Ba-looooot! Ba-looooot!" Breakfast was served.

Now, I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater. I'm no Andrew Zimmern, mind you, but I'll sample almost anything once. I drew the line at balut. I feel certain that line has not moved in 30-plus years.

It's worth mentioning that balut is not characteristic of Filipino food in general, most of which is not bizarre in any respect, and is actually quite tasty. If you're serving up a banquet of sinigang, chicken adobo, pork mechado, pancit with shrimp, and fried lumpia, save me a chair.

I'll leave the balut to Andrew Zimmern.

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8 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous FirstTimeLongTime offered these pearls of wisdom...

Eggs with a fertilized embryo inside? I know I speak for everyone when I say: Ewww.

Happy New Year to you and yours, Swan Shadow. I am looking forward to reading more of your words of wisdom in 2009.

12:37 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

FTLT: I don't make the cuisine -- I only report it. :)

Happy New Year to you also, my friend. Thank you for all the cogent comments. I'll strive to write even more comment-worthy posts in the coming months.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Sam offered these pearls of wisdom...

I've watched Andrew on his many epicurious adventures. I'll try the haggis, but leave the balut on the table for someone else.

For that matter, that moldy tofu crap they serve you in Taiwan, too. Happy New Year, Uncle Swan.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

Which begs the age old question, which came first, the chicken or the 18th day old, fertilized egg?:)

12:26 PM  
Blogger Louise offered these pearls of wisdom...

I'm certain I could never be so hungry that balut would sound appealing.

Found your site today and enjoyed the few posts I read.

10:28 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Sam: Happy New Year to you also, my friend.

I've actually eaten haggis. I wouldn't run out to have more, but it wasn't the worst thing I ever tasted.

I've been to Taiwan, but I skipped the fermented tofu.

10:47 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Janet: Colonel Sanders came first.

10:48 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Louise: When it comes to balut, that makes two of us.

Thanks for dropping by. Don't be a stranger. (I'm strange enough for the both of us.)

10:50 PM  

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