Browsing the refrigerated shelf at my local market, I came across a sheet of lined notebook paper that bore a warning:
Not regular egg
These having babies.
Unswayed, I reached for the tray of duck eggs that lay immediately behind it.
As anyone who has spent time in a park (or an Asian market, for that matter) can tell you, duck eggs are a bit larger than chicken eggs. The shells are thicker, more leathery, but bathed in the cooler's fluorescent glow, they seemed almost to reveal their "having babies."
Then again, maybe that was the sign talking.
No matter. Those eggs were what I'd come for.
Like any delicacy, there are rules to eating balut, or fertilized eggs: You're supposed to eat the duck (or chicken) embryo when it is nine to fourteen days old. You're not supposed to crack it open and fry it sunny-side up. Rather, the egg is to be boiled in the shell, then kept warm until it's ready to be eaten.
(Clearly, this is not a popular dish among the pro-life vegetarian demographic.)
But these balut, incubated, as it were, in freon gas, were going to be a bit dicey. Holding one up to the light, I couldn't tell if it had already been cooked. So, going on the assumption that caution is the better part of savor, I split the difference and opted to gently microwave them on "defrost." After a few minutes, they emerged as hot as coals.
In the meantime, one egg had broken open, revealing that my embryonic feast was to be warmed-over, not freshly cooked.
After a brief cooling bath, I commenced to peel my prizes. (What's that brown spot opposite the yolk? Could it be the crown of a baby mallard's head?) While I was cutting one balut in half, it emitted an explosive gasp and I dropped it, half expecting a semi-boiled chick to emerge in bleating fury.
No such luck.
I'm no ornithologist, but I'd guesstimate that my balut had been cooked on about day four. There were no "embryos" to speak of — just a healthy collection of cells on one side of each yolk. It looked sort of like jelly.
Adding a pinch of salt for seasoning, I took a bite.
How did it taste? Sort of like an egg. The consistency was a lot firmer than a chicken egg, and if I thought hard about it, there were hints of duck. Ultimately, though, it tasted like a hard-boiled egg.
That's not to say that the idea of gnawing on a fetus (granted, an extremely young fetus) wasn't enough to stimulate the gag reflex a few times.
It was, and it did.
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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