Ever since my first Filipino food tour at Al Attar Shopping Centre in Karama, I’ve been on a mission to expose myself to more Filipino cuisine. I mean, surely any self-respecting foodie living in Dubai should it make a point to appreciate the food of a nation that comprises 20% of the local population, no?
I’m fascinated by Filipino food in general. Cheese cakes with grated cheese on top. Pork ears and face. But nothing holds as much allure as the famed balut. This delicacy is in fact a fertilised duck embryo incubated for around two weeks, then steamed or boiled in the shell, peeled and eaten whole – feathers, bones, beak, veins and all.
Balut is enjoyed as street food around Southeast Asia, but in Dubai you can find it some evenings from a lady outside the Philippine Supermarket on Al Muraqqabat Road in Deira.
Thanks to my Filipino colleague who was aware of my fascination with this unusual food, I was finally able to sample the balut. And since I’ve been talking about it so long, not eating it was obviously not an option.
So, here goes. The challenge is on. Let’s learn how to eat balut (which, according to my friend, looks like a baby pterodactyl):
1. Warm the eggs in hot water.
2. Tap the eggs on a hard surface to crack the shell.
3. Break away the top of the shell only.
4. Drink the amniotic fluid out of the shell. (The broth had a strong odor that scented my fingers – not in a good way.)
5. Peel the remaining shell away.
6. Pop the embryo into your mouth – whole. (If I didn’t eat it whole, I knew I wouldn’t be able to take a second bite.)
7. Close your eyes and think happy thoughts. (This is the point I had gag reflex and my eyes started to water. But only for a moment. Soldier on!)
8. Chew and swallow. (I chewed mine well for better digestion and to get the full textural experience. The wings and feathers were soft and oddly chewy. I didn’t notice the bones but they were in there too. But the predominant element was the yolk which was very firm and almost chalky in texture. But I’m told the way to do it is to chew it into a few swallowable pieces and swallow it. Fast.)
Verdict: Even my Filipino friends are divided. Some refuse to eat it at all, some remove the chick and eat only the yolk, and others pop them back like Pringles. This acquired taste is definitely not for everyone. (In fact, it’s probably not for most people.) Would I eat it again? Probably not. It didn’t necessarily taste bad, but the mental block is what makes it so off-putting.
Favourite part – the squirms from my colleagues.
Least favourite part – picking feathers out of my mouth afterwards. Meow. 🐱
Note to self: Bucket list, tick. Next on the Filipino food list – boodle fight!
Chow for now!