The eggs with legs…
by Ronnie Hoyle
THERE are some parts of traditional Philippine life which stick in the
mind long after they happen. One of them is your first taste of tuba or
bahalina, which you might be persuaded to try when you meet up with a
group of local friends for the first time.
Another is balut.
It sounds innocuous enough when you first hear the pedal cyclist
with the cool box wandering around the town, village or resort ringing
his bell and yelling out ‘Balut – balut’ and the local people rush to
buy one or two each. It makes you wonder what all the fuss is about:
after all, it is only a boiled egg, isn’t it?
Now, there is a reason why this local delicacy only seems to come around
the area after the sun has well and truly set over the horizon: you get
a bit more courageous after a few bottles of beer, and everything looks
better if you cannot see things properly…because balut is not just a
boiled egg like you first thought.
The sniggers of your local friends on Alona Beach if you are a
‘foreigner’ on your first visit to the archipelago should have been the
first warning that it is not exactly the same sort of egg as the one you
ate for breakfast with your toast soldiers and bacon and beans and
The second warning should have struck home when the challenges were made
to you to complete the assigned task without baulking and making
yourself look like a coward who does not enjoy real Philippine cuisine.
This is the egg with legs, plus wings, feathers, beak, bones, claws and
a few more bits and pieces besides that you really do not want to think
about too much.
The Chinese would have us believe that the real quality of an egg comes
out when it is a thousand years old…the Filipino is a little bit more
impatient than that and cannot wait a few centuries to get at their
delicacy: between 16 and 21 days is enough, they say.
By that time, the chick inside has grown enough, so now you just boil
it, let it cool down, peel off the shell at one end, add a little salt
and swallow it down – chew it if that becomes necessary…it usually is.
Of course, the contents of the egg are a little bit crunchier than your
normal boiled variety - and that leads to some complications for people
who have queasy stomachs and active imaginations.
The basic idea is not to think about it, and even hold your nose to
eliminate the effects of any olfactory senses: if you do accidentally
sniff, the contents of the egg sometimes leave the stomach via the
emergency exit far faster than they went down…and even some Filipinos
cannot manage it if they have not been raised to believe that this adds
more than a little bit of ‘oomph’ to both male and female virility, just
like swaki, which is the central pink meat of raw sea urchins.
Sometimes, some Filipinos even eat three balut in the same evening – one
after the other (sorry – there are some exceptions!) - so watch out boys
and girls: it is supposed to be more effective than a dozen oysters
shipped in from the island of Masbate, and you know what they are
supposed to do. It could even be the main reason for the forecast
population explosion in the Philippines!
Originally, balut was the term applied to duck eggs and in some parts of
the country ducks are raised on special farms just to produce eggs which
are incubated for the right number of days, although how anyone found
out or could proved in the beginning that eating an egg after the usual
‘sell-by and eat-by’ dates could improve your sex life is anyone’s
guess…and is likely to remain one of those great unsolved mysteries
until the end of time.
Nowadays, the term balut is equally applied to chicken eggs incubated
for the same period, although no one has so far coined the phrase: ‘Cor
– luvva chicken!’
Naturally fertilized eggs are normally taken from broody chickens or
ducks and then incubated separately, the eggs being turned each day to
mimic the actions of the bird. With a strong light behind the egg, you
can even watch the development of the embryo inside to a certain extent.
Of course, with nothing getting into the egg and nothing getting out, it
is only perception that makes the real difference. The only thing that
has actually happened is transmutation of the raw life-giving materials
that the bird put into the shell in the first place, so it’s the same as
if you are eating a boiled, fried or scrambled egg, isn’t it? But – as
they say – it’s the thought that counts.
That’s the real problem: don’t even think about it…just do it…and try
and survive the experience!
Kilroy Was Here © 2006