Monday, March 6, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Balut

If you ever travel internationally and live like the locals by eating the their foods, you will inevitably be challenged to eat some sort of delicacy that would make the average bland food eating American’s toes curl. When compared to other cultures, ‘American’ foods are about as varied as a prisoner living on stale bread and water. It didn’t take long on my first trip before the food gauntlet was thrown down with the mention of balut, which is a partially developed duck egg that has been fermented in the sand for a month before consumption.

Although the word has been tossed out with some phrasing to the effect that I should try some because it is tasty, none ever appeared before me during my first trip. For sure, I wasn’t upset about it. But as time passed, I grew more and more curious about balut. Was it actually as my hosts said or had they been pulling my leg this entire time? I decided to find out for myself and I found out the perfect guise under which to do it.

Whenever you go away from home in the Philippines normally on a trip of sorts, it is tradition to bring back some pasalubong (gift) back for the rest of the family. This can be just about anything, but often times for trips to the town shopping center, it is food. On an earlier trip a cousin of mine had brought back some cinnamon buns that were delicious and so I thought that I would bring back balut from my trip.

I had spent the afternoon walking around with a cousin and a brother-in-law when we ran across a vendor selling balut along Session Road in downtown Baguio City. I carefully negotiated for four eggs to be put in a plastic bag and we headed for home. I say carefully because I put a great deal of thought into the number of eggs to get. I figured three would be too few for the number of balut eating people back at the house and would be considered stingy and insulting. Five or more would more than likely be enough to allow all available eaters to eat one and still have one left over for me… something I very much didn’t want to happen. I rolled the dice, bought four and held my breath.

When I got home, I told my aunt that I had bought her some pasalubong and much to her great joy, it was balut. But I told her that she had to promise me that she would wait for me to photograph it before she ate it so that I could post it on my blog. She agreed, already grabbing the first egg and peeling some of the shell off around the top. There was quite a bit of red liquid pooled near the top of the egg and she delicately sipped it out before continuing to peel the egg. I pulled out my camera and before I could even turn it on, the egg disappeared into her mouth, partially developed egg, feathers and all.

My aunt sheepishly apologized for eating it saying that she was so focused on how good it would taste that she forgot about allowing me to photograph it. There was nothing to do now but grab another egg and start cracking it, which she did without hesitation. After she had it mostly peeled, I tried again to get a couple more pictures but no matter how much I try to get her to sit it on the table, she wouldn’t allow it out of her hands, shaking in anticipation so every picture appeared blurry. I tried three different times before she couldn’t contain her excitement anymore and popped it into her mouth, feathers and all.

There were two eggs left but she politely saved them for two more of the family members to get home from an errand. I went upstairs to pass the time away and must have dozed off. When I awoke from some noise downstairs, all I heard was the word balut being mentioned followed by some noises that were unmistakably eggs being cracked. I grabbed my camera and hurried downstairs but by the time I got there, nothing was left except the bulging cheeks of my other brother-in-law and a very happy look in his eyes. Oh well, I got a few blurry, out of focus pictures but it made my hosts happy and best of all, I didn’t have to eat one myself.

No comments: