Balut: A Popular Street Food from the Philippines

Balut, which is typically pronounced as Balot, is a popular street food in the countries like the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand. For preparing Balut, a fertilized duck egg with developing embryo inside it is either boiled or steamed. Balut is usually served as an appetizer in the restaurants in the Philippines. Filipinos typically prefer to season Balut with salt, vinegar, or soy sauce, while the Vietnamese people eat it with salt, pepper, and Vietnamese coriander. Balut is considered as a cheap source of protein and calcium and is a star product of the duck industry in the Philippines, followed by salted duck eggs locally known as “itlog na maalat.”

It is said that Balut was introduced to the Filipinos by the Chinese people around the year 1885, and since then, Balut has become an integral part of Filipino cuisine. During its introduction, it was known as “Mao Dan,” which is a Chinese term and loosely translates into “hairy egg.” The reason behind this name was the feathers of the embryo, which are visible while steaming the egg to prepare the dish. However, with time, its name changed, and in the Philippines, it got its name because of the process of wrapping the eggs inside bags during their incubation period before preparing the dish. “Balut,” in the local Filipino language, means “wrapped.”

The Mallard duck, also known as the Pateros duck, is the most popular duck egg breed for preparing Balut. During the initial stages of incubation, these eggs are referred to as “Balut sa Puti,” which translates into “wrapped in white.” Once the chicken develops beak, eyes, feathers, and claws, the egg is then considered ready for preparing the dish.

The egg is typically incubated somewhere between 14 to 21 days before preparing Balut. However, the preferences vary between region-to-region. “Pong Tia Koun,” another version of Balut, is from Cambodia. For making this variety of Balut, the egg is incubated somewhere between 18 to 20 days. In the Vietnamese version, the incubation period of eggs is between 10 to 21 days. Complete development and hatching of duck eggs usually occur in 28 days. Throughout the incubation period, the eggs are candled for monitoring the growth of the embryos. Infertile eggs or those with the non-viable embryos are removed.

Besides the incubation period, the temperature is also a significant factor in which the taste and texture of Balut depend. It is said that the temperature between 29 to 30 degrees makes the yolk grainy. Temperature between 40 to 42 degrees Celsius with relatively high humidity, is considered perfect for fertilizing the duck eggs. These conditions facilitate the growth of the partially developed embryo until the eggs are removed for preparing Balut. Although Balut is usually made from duck eggs, sometimes chicken eggs are also used for making it.

Some western countries, like Canada, have labeled Balut as hazardous food. It is said that temperature and conditions provided for the incubation of Balut eggs are also a perfect breeding ground for other bacteria such as Salmonella Enteritidis, which is responsible for causing diarrhea among humans. Nevertheless, despite the risks involved in the incubation of eggs, the popularity of Balut is continuing to grow, especially in the South-East Asian countries.

Have you come across any such exciting dish? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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