Skip to main content

Balut: The Filipino delicacy that makes the world squirm

By Justin Calderon, for CNN
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
In the Philippines, balut is served by everyone from street-side hawkers to upscale restaurants. Ready to see what's inside? If you're the queasy sort, don't click any further. In the Philippines, balut is served by everyone from street-side hawkers to upscale restaurants. Ready to see what's inside? If you're the queasy sort, don't click any further.
HIDE CAPTION
How to eat balut
Open the egg ... carefully
Slurp the soup
Eat the bird
Finish with the yolk
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Balut, an 18-day-old fertilized duck egg, is a popular snack in the Philippines
  • Acceptance of balut depends on exposure at a young age
  • First time eaters are advised to not dwell on the textures

(CNN) -- Despite being an object of culinary fascination around the world, balut -- a popular Filipino food -- is no beauty queen.

The 18-day-old fertilized duck egg has revolted even the most daring foodies with its carnal textures, earning it lofty rankings on many a "most disgusting/strange/terrifying food" list.

While food journalists commonly label balut as the Philippines' "much loved delicacy," in reality Filipinos are decidedly split over their nation's oft-sung snack.

MORE: The Philippines best beaches and islands

The science experiment you eat

Acceptance of balut often depends on exposure at a young age, much like Vegemite in Australia.

In an apparent attempt to preserve the delicacy's popularity among the country's rapidly modernizing and discriminating palates, some schools in the Philippines introduce balut to young students during science classes.

Students use balut to study the anatomy of birds, then eat the compressed bird beak, veins and developing wings within.

"Our teacher made us eat the egg so it wouldn't go to waste," says Manila resident Anna Vecin of her ordeal.

"And if we didn't eat it, we'd get a low score on that day's lesson. Of course, I had no choice but to eat it."

The experience can leave some with a lifelong aversion to the so-called national delicacy.

Even balut's tamer cousin, penoy -- an unfertilized duck egg billed as a less carnal option, given that it lacks the semi-developed chick within -- can be hard to stomach.

MORE: 11 coolest towns in the Philippines

The yolk is easily detached from the shell, veins and all.
The yolk is easily detached from the shell, veins and all.

Taste over appearance

For others, balut's combination of savory soup, fresh meaty bird and warm yolk is a revelation.

"My dad had a duck farm once upon a time in Binangonan, Rizal, so at some point growing up, we had a lot of them at home," recalls Cheryl Tiu, a Manila-based writer.

"My mom's parents always enjoyed eating it, thus it got passed on to her and her siblings, and then down to us. My favorite part is the soup. And then I dip the yolk in rock salt.

"Today though, I'm not sure if I can eat the whole chick anymore, unlike when I was much younger."

The dish is particularly popular among Filipino families with ethnic Chinese backgrounds.

Balut is also widely enjoyed across numerous provinces in China, especially in the south.

Like many Chinese dishes, balut comes with a list of putative health benefits.

Among these, it's claimed balut can boost male fertility and libido.

Balut in New York

Can't make it to Manila?

Though balut is hard to find outside the Philippines, New York Filipino restaurant Maharlika offers the delicacy for $5 a pop.

The restaurant hosts an annual balut eating contest, held every August.

Last year's winner knocked back 27 balut in five minutes.

Think you can do better?

The gallery above offers a few pointers on how to eat balut.

MORE: 50 foods that define the Philippines

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2042 GMT (0442 HKT)
From Maastricht to Melbourne, these itineraries make bookish travelers look stylish.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
Good cocktails combine with spectacular views across rivers, cityscapes and oceans at these bird-level drinkeries.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1809 GMT (0209 HKT)
A California homeowner's nightmare has become a cautionary tale for those who rent their homes to strangers.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 0226 GMT (1026 HKT)
Cinema loves portraying the lives of expats. Sometimes it gets it right. Sometimes it casts Nick Nolte as a jungle king.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0117 GMT (0917 HKT)
Don't be intimidated, says a local expert. Here's how to do China without the hassles
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
When your city has an unenviable reputation for insulting tourists and fleecing them for every cent, inviting hotel guests to pay what they want could be a risky move.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0710 GMT (1510 HKT)
1937 Auto Union V16 Streamliner, Audi Museum, Germany
With factory tours and collections of stunning vintage prototypes, southern Germany is petrolhead paradise.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1344 GMT (2144 HKT)
Every tourist destination has a flip side, a season when prices go down and savvy, flexible travelers can score big savings.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0711 GMT (1511 HKT)
A Marrakech lamp bazaar
Morocco's Red City is crammed with stunning gardens, shaded souks and steamy bath houses.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
Santo Stefano Island, Italy
Pristine beaches, unspoiled nature and few tourists -- a stretch on these former penal colonies is no longer a punishment.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 0923 GMT (1723 HKT)
Life in Joburg can be stressful. Luckily there are some exceedingly non-stressful places close by.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 0907 GMT (1707 HKT)
Istanbul skyline
CNN's Ivan Watson pays homage to the city he's called home for the past 12 years.
China notches up another superlative achievement as a Nanjing-based artist creates the world's largest and longest anamorphic painting.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
In what is undoubtedly the world's "coolest" surf video, photographer Chris Burkhard endures freezing temperatures, blizzards and injury to capture Arctic waves and their riders.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0339 GMT (1139 HKT)
Few airline routes are as cutthroat as the one that travels between London and New York. It is the world's busiest route and there are few lengths airlines won't go to in the hopes of getting a piece of the action.
ADVERTISEMENT