American Expat in the Philippines. I Finally Eat Balut!

After living as an American expat in the Philippines for nearly three years, I've had several close encounters with balut,  a fertilized duck embryo that's boiled alive and eaten in the shell.  I've seen Andrew Zimmern from Bizzare Foods on TLC chow down on this favorite street vendor food of the Philippines, but there was absolutely NO WAY I was ever going to digest the thing. It looks absolutely disgusting (see photo after next from Wikipedia for a close-up.) DSC


px Inside a Balut   Embryo and Yolk

But you never know what you're capable of when you're under the influence of a combination of San Miguel Pilsen and Jim Beam. And I can blame my American expat friend in the Philippines, Brother Tom, for this gastric experience since he suggested that we visit The Shirven Hotel in Guimaras for frosty mugs of San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

We already consumed a few bottles of warm Pale Pilsen at Lisa's Talabahan Etc. in San Miguel, just a few blocks from "The Crossing." I guess he didn't force "Florida Frank," his visiting amigo from the States and myself to make the short walk to the best hotel in Guimaras, but I didn't want to be rude and turn down his offer.

After all, my asawa and her relative, LenLen, Tom's GF, would be accompanying us and keeping a watchful eye on our consumption. And of course there was Frank. It would probably take an army to keep tabs on my new American friend, but since there was none available,  I was fairly certain the two ladies in our group could probably handle keeping one more guy in line.

Our favorite staff people at The Shirven, Maricel and Mae, who had recently recovered from a bout of chicken pox, were on hand to greet us. That's Maricel standing next to me in the following photo. Alright, alright, I admit the next picture is even better. It features Maricel, my own beautiful asawa and the lovely LenLen. DSC

 

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Tom negotiated the remainder of a bottle of Jim Beam with Maricel, our server,  to accompany our frosted mugs of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. He also broke out a huge cigar. My official staff photographer, my spouse, took the following photo. Brother Tom, who only smokes one cigar a month, offered me one, but I passed. I've never even smoked a cigarette in my life, but I didn't refuse his offer of Jimmy Beam. DSC

After several bottles of my favorite San Mig product and whiskey,  Brother Tom thought a walk around town would do us all some good. Being a group of three kanos accompanied by some pretty pinays, we attracted some attention.

We walked along the grounds near the provincial capitol and checked out the progress for the upcoming Manggahan Festival 2012 in Guimaras which would begin on April 15th. Looks like a lot more work had to be done. In past years more headway appeared to have been completed at this point.

However,  I'm sure that by the opening, everything will be in order. I'll be reporting on that super event that celebrates the sweet mangoes of Guimaras. My asawa and I will definitely be in attendance.

I spied a balut vendor as we were meandering around. Copious amounts of San Miguel Pale Pilsen were still in my system, so I stopped the fertilized duck salesman and asked if he had any balut. Sometimes only penoy is available.  Penoy, penoy na may sabaw, does not have the visible duck embryo, and the center has the consistency of the yolk of a hard-boiled egg and is surrounded by a custard-like part. My Filipina asawa only eats the penoy and never indulges in balut.

  • "Do you have penoy?" my spouse asked the vendor.
  • "Yes, " was the reply.
  • "Do you have balut?" I inquired.
  • "No balut, just penoy." he answered.
  • "So no balut?" I said, with feigned disappoint in my voice.
  • "We have balut, sir." he advised me.
     

I thought "What we've got here is a failure to communicate" as the movie Cool Hand Luke so aptly put it. But I handed over 23 pesos (53¢), 13 for my balut and 10 for my asawa's penoy and proceeded to peel the shell.

I looked at that little duck embryo staring at me, but it didn't faze me one bit. An older Filipino man walked by and I announced to him that this was "my first balut." He stopped and smiled broadly, obviously amused.  With my spouse, Brother Tom, LenLen and "Florida Frank," looking on, I took my first bite. The next three photos taken by my official staff photographer tells the story:

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I'm looking very cheerful. It's the beer talking.

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I take my first bite of balut.

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My face says it all! Actually, it tasted just like a hard boiled egg, and I didn't notice the embryo one bit. I devoured it all. And yes, I would do it again. But not after I had a "few" bottles of Pale Pilsen beforehand again. It was a culinary adventure I will not soon forget.

28 comments

  1. Yep definitely have to try “real” balut in the Philippines on my next visit. The only one I tried at a local Asian food store here in Louisiana was mostly liquid, maybe it was penoy (asawa’s sleeping so can’t ask her now), but it was nasty – probably was sitting in their store for weeks. Look forward to trying again though and hope for better results.
    Brother Tom: brewmaster and cigar afficianado – sounds like a pretty cool dude. Cigars helped me kick a nasty 23 year cigarette addiction. Couple a week keep me going these days. Great way to end the work week; cold quality beer and hand rolled cigar. Throw in a nice cut of steak and you got a nice start to the weekend 🙂

    1. I suspect you might have had penoy, Paul, which has a lot of liquid. My balut actually didn’t taste bad, just don’t look at it a lot before you chomp down on it. Like Paul in Iloilo remarked, drinking a lot of SMB’s beforehand definitely does help.

      Brother Tom IS one cool dude, Paul. He can’t dance worth crap, however, and his biggest “fault” I can see is that he is a vegetarian. But he’s a real Renaissance Man, no doubt about that. Brewmaster and cigar lover, master furniture maker, graphic artist, and oblate (lay person at The Trappist Monastery, Tom is not a monk,he is a brother, because monks, as he states, can’t drink and can’t have girlfriends. He’s not willing to give up either. :D)

    2. A follow up on this post….. I did try balut on my recent trip to the Philippines and it was so much better than the crap I had here in Louisiana. I bought it from a street vendor in Gingoog City (Mindanao). It was 17 days old, according to my wife’s cousin/my body guard/translator…lol, and the guy gave me a bottle of vinegar and some salt. It was really good. Tasted mostly like an egg, but there was something crunchy towards the end.
      I also tried chicken feet and chicken intestines from a street vendor. The intestines were good. The chicken feet…. not very much meat, but they were ok.

      1. Sounds like you got some of the real stuff, Paul. My brother-in-law in Guimaras would age his salted eggs soaked in vinegar for 18 days. Yeah, balut tastes like a hard-boiled egg until you hit the crunchy stuff.

        My friend, Fearless Frank from Florida, tried some chicken intestines. Problem is, Frank didn’t know they had to be grilled first and ate them raw. He’s still alive. I’ve never tried the intestines or the chicken feet. I’ll have to taste some of those next time I visit our local talabahan. Sounds like you had quite a culinary experience.

        1. Raw chicken intestines and he survived? Yikes! He must have the intestinal constitution of a Filipino. My wife, son, and I all got sick while we were there. We think it was food poisoning caused by the brownouts (13 total brownouts in 17 days was the final count by the way) – the food was thawing in the fridge/freezer and possibly not cooked all the way afterward. Could also have been a virus. We just stayed hydrated and fought our way through it. I was sick for a total of 8 days – pretty good weight loss plan. I did manage to eat a lot of food though and drink many many San Mig products. My wife had a plan to eat kinilaw (fish) everyday. I think she succeeded. It was really good. I believe they use the coconut wine (tuba) or actually tuba vinegar to cook it in. I also bought 2 pigs for my son’s Baptism party. We roasted one (lechon baboy) and cut the other one up for a variety of other dishes. Managed to go through 11 cases of Red Horse too (66 liter bottles) in one day! A fun time was had by all. 🙂

          1. Yep, Frank was very fortunate. Your family could have very well gotten sick by food poisoning caused by the brownouts. We’ve had five days of brownouts since May 1. A brownout on May 2 knocked out the Iloilo “International” airport and caused millions of pesos of related damage city-wide. Nine brownouts in April totaling around 20 hours.

            Wow! Two pigs and 11 cases of Red Horse! Man, that’s some party! You guys know how to celebrate! 😀 :mrgreen: 😛

  2. Dave,
    I know you’ve posted in the past about a resort in Guimaras with sandy beaches. Any info you could pass to me would be appreciated. I’m looking for potential places to bring my asawa’s parents on vacation. My mother-in-law has never been anywhere but Mindanao – she’s never been on a plane, and is excited about the possibility of travelling and we’re looking for potential vacation spots to take her to when we visit. My father-in-law worked as an OFW in Japan in the past, but mama has never travelled so we want to take her and papa somewhere for a nice weekend getaway. We’ve thought of Boracay, which both my wife and I have been to, and Palawan, which we haven’t been to but would love, as well as, Cebu, but I remember you mentioning a resort in Guimaras. Any info would be appreciated.
    Looking like we’ll be there in May, although June is still a possibility if prices drop a bit.

    1. I highly recommend Raymen Beach in Guimaras, Paul. Take the pump boat from Ortiz Dock in Iloilo City to the Jordan Wharf in Guimaras. You can rent a multicab for P450 or take a couple of jeepney rides to the beach. We’re taking some friends from America over there later this week. Would be more than happy to meet you and your relatives in Iloilo and guide you to Raymen. Sounds like your mother-in-law deserves a nice vacation. Let me know when you plan to come over so we can work out the details. Good food at Raymen, white sandy beaches, good facilities and great staff.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Jonathan. I can assure you that I will be trying my next balut with SMB or Red Horse. I’ve heard about that “Beer na Beer” stuff. 🙂

  3. Dave,
    That Balut face is priceless. You definately need liquid courage to sample those and having all those pretty Pinay’s doesn’t hurt either. Have a nice day.

  4. Fearless Florida Frank Here

    The Shirven is Outstanding, The Waitstaff is Very Good Looking, The Food is Really GOOD,The Prices are Extremely Reasonable, and the Rooms are Very Nice.

    What more could you ask for ??

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