The first time I ate a fertilized duck egg was at a Vietnamese restaurant in New York City three years ago. I was headed to Vietnam in a few months and knew I’d be writing about something food related, so I spent the run-up to the trip eating as much Vietnamese food as I could. When I saw balut, as fertilized duck eggs are often referred to, on the menu, I knew I had to try it. But as if the chef expected no one to order balut, my dining companion and I were informed they were out of it. “You want us to go get some,” the server said, daring us. We called their bluff and soon enough someone from the restaurant was making a fertilized duck egg run to Chinatown. A few minutes later, the eggs were presented to my dining companion and I.
They weren’t good. They weren’t bad, either. If you closed your eyes and didn’t look at the little dead baby partially formed fetus duck pinched between your chopsticks you’d just think you were eating something very egg-y. My dining companion went for seconds but I think he was just showing off at this point.
I thought I’d sworn off eating duck fetuses but a few months later, there I was in Saigon, doing a story on Vietnamese-born New York chef and prolific restaurateur Michael ‘Bao’ Huynh for a New York Times travel article. The mission seemed easy enough: just go where he goes and eat what he eats. The rub, though, was that he was eating congealed pigs blood, rats, snakes and, of course, those fermented duck eggs.
1) Crack the top of the egg with a spoon.
I’ll admit balut wasn’t my favorite – even rat was better – but one has to do such things in the name of journalism. Right? You don’t, of course, have to go all the way to Asia to eat balut. That Vietnamese restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side where I first ate a duck fetus is long gone. But there’s a new place proudly serving balut in New York City. The Filipino restaurant in the East Village called Maharlika. Or you can just stop by the very first balut eating contest on Saturday August 25 at 3 p.m., taking place at the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn, where 10 brave eaters will try to eat as many fertilized duck eggs in five minutes. It’ll be five minutes of unborn-duck-eating glory!
Nicole Ponseca, owner of Maharlika and sponsor of the eating contest, said, “Our goal is to push Filipino food forward. We’re the third largest minority in the US behind Mexicans and Chinese. But no one knows our food.” She added, “Some people ask why we’re putting balut on the menu. It might turn people off. But we have to be proud of our food. And I want it to cross over.”
Anyone want to meet me for some balut?