Eating the Gestated Duck Egg Called Balut at Umi Nom
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob.
Every cuisine has its odd passion, and Philippine has its balut. The word refers to the gestated egg of a chicken or duck, which has been incubated for 10 to 19 days, depending on how funky you want it to get inside. Eating it is not so much a snack as a surgical procedure.
The top of the egg has been cracked off, revealing a sac bulging with brown fluid.
Basically, the chick grows within the shell, developing such features as bones, a beak, neural tissue, and a skein of blood vessels during this period. After 21 days, the egg hatches, and your balut is ruined.
I've been told by Filipino friends that balut is a delicacy most enjoyed by children on their way home from school. In the '80s, during a period when hospitals like Beth Israel were actively recruiting nurses and doctors from the Philippines, there were several restaurants and at least three bodegas that specialized in groceries from the archipelago around the corner of First Avenue and East 14th Street, and they all sold balut -- chicken eggs white, duck eggs colored purple, to distinguish them. The eggs were usually vended from straw baskets next to the cash register.
Nowadays, Balut is a little harder to find, and you may have to go to Woodside, Queens, where there are Pinoy (as Philippine-Americans like to call themselves) stores in abundance. I got my balut as a special at Umi Nom (433 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-789-8806), a small-plate pan-Asian place in Clinton Hill, just east of Pratt Institute.
The first few bites, bathed in brown broth, are especially delicious.
The dark mass in the center -- seen here in a shot from the low-light cam -- is the developing embryo.
The egg arrived swaddled in a napkin like the baby Jesus. It was flanked by little saucers of salt, and soy sauce with green chiles floating in it. A spoon was also provided, which I used to break the top of the egg, revealing the amniotic sac. Piercing through that, I came upon a wealth of brown fluid, which many claim is the best part. It spooned up salty and fishy tasting, but also extremely eggy, like the broth from a fine soup.
The matter underneath was custardy, and there was a brown body deeper inside that must have been the developing embryo. Part of the interior was thick and cheesy, and I assume that was the nutrient matter in the yolk, which had turned hard and crazed with red blood vessels.
The terrain varied within the egg, but I had a bit of difficulty identifying the various anatomic features. I finished the egg in front of my amused dinner guest, managing to shoot bits of shell all over the table.
I hadn't found any bones inside, so I asked the waitress, "Hey, why aren't there any bones? Has this thing been incubated a shorter period of time?"
She sheepishly admitted that the egg had been incubated for only 12 days, perhaps to not scare off customers. "Most Filipinos like it 15 or 16 days," she admitted.
Blood vessels are found in the interior of the egg.
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