At YPT, we are all about getting down and dirty with the local customs, be they drinking the local moonshine or trying the weirdest of delicacies. And boy, do we love balut.
What is balut
Balut, sometimes spelt balot, is the egg of a duck that is allowed to gestate, or fertilize for anywhere between 14-21 weeks before being served. So, in case you have not understood that correctly, it is a duck fetus. Salivating yet?
What is the story behind it?
It is a traditional dish of the Philippines, from where it is served throughout South-East Asia. It is suspected that the dish originated in China (where else?) before it was taken further afield by traders.
Where can you get balut?
Balut food is found throughout South East Asia. It is most common in the Philippines, but is also a main stay in Vietnam, Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Thailand. It is available certain places in China. I ate in in Linjiang on the border with North Korea.
The delicacy is also found throughout the Filipino diaspora and I have eaten it in Hong Kong and Macau. It can even be purchased in certain parts of North America, such as Canada and the USA.
What kind of food is it?
It depends where you are, but in the Philippines it is very much street food and is sold by vendors. In some respects it is a bit of a drunk food comparable to a kebab in England!
In Vietnam you often find it on roadside stops and in Cambodia as part of a street food menu, rather than from a specific balut cart.
Why do people eat it?
Why do people eat anything weird? But it is good for you so they say.
How do you eat balut food?
This will depend very much on where you are, but regardless you will be served it hot, from where it will need to cracked before eating. This is where the region varieties kick in.
Eating it in the Philippines!
In the Philippines, you crack the top, take it off before adding strong vinegar and salt. You then suck the juice out before essentially sucking the duck out and chewing the balut.
Do they have it in Cambodia?
It is served on a bed of greens like coriander and sometimes fried onions, much like street oysters. You then crack, suck the juice, but largely eat it raw. A very different vibe. Balut is called pong tia koon in Cambodian.
Balut in China
I have eaten the fermented duck embryo in Yiwu and Linjiang and both times you also add vinegar, but with the addition of super Chinese hot sauce. It is also often eaten without anything at all added, which I am not so keen on. Linjiang is a really cool place to visit, which you can see on our borderlands tour.
Can you get it in Vietnam?
I’ve been assured I did this wrong, but I once purchased it from the roadside on a bus trip to Cao Bang, The big mistake that I made here was not only to buy 3 (thinking that they were eggs), but buying three without any kind of seasoning. I was pretty much ready to vomit by the third. This is not a dish to have raw.
So, which country has the best balut?
Any question that asks what the best is has a little bit of a horses for courses element, BUT in my humble opinion you cannot beat how they serve it in Philippines, where it is the ultimate after-drinks food.