29 (Wednesday) April 2015
from Robinsons Supermarket [takeaway]
in WHO WPRO cafeteria function room
with MG, MK, MN, ER, BS, CT … and eggers-on
Balut is a Filipino … je ne sais quoi. It’s a duck egg … containing a 17-day-old half-formed embryo* … boiled in the shell … peeled … seasoned with salt and/or chili and/or vinegar … consumed … yolk and albumen and bones and feathers and guts and shit and all. Originating in China, also common in Southeast Asia, but now internationally most famously associated with the Philippines — kinda like how eating dog is more prevalent in China and Southeast Asia but internationally most vilified as a Korean practice. If “delicate” = “disgusting,” this would be the ultimate Filipino delicacy — google “weird/bizarre/gross Filipino food,” and balut ranks number one across the board. Sold everywhere on the street as a snack. The locals claim unequivocally that it’s good for the knees, because of the cartilage — kinda like how Koreans say that eating pork skin is good for a person’s complexion, because of the collagen.
*Ducklings typically hatch at 28 days.
Months back, CT and I had made a big public pledge about attempting a balut challenge before he left — today was his last day. I’d forgotten about it, but MK — the proverbial and literal lady in red — who is Japanese but has a Filipino boyfriend and therefore considers herself an honorary Filipina — came to work this morning with a bag of balut from the supermarket to ensure that we effectuate the bravado. The cafeteria kitchen kindly kept them warm and provided the salt, chilies, and vinegar. We were joined by MG and MN, along with a dozen onlookers, including cafeteria staff, wanting to see how the foreigners would manage.
FAIL. Just cracking open the shell, a foul funky fetid odor exploded from within, causing me to recoil involuntarily. Then, as I was picking it apart to get photos of the individual components, nausea set it. Meanwhile, my fellow contestants had somehow succeeded in finishing theirs, so all attention was on me. Taking a huge slug of whisky, hoping that the burn of the booze would simultaneously vitalize my resolve and anesthetize-sanitize my senses, thinking that I could hold my breath and swallow it whole and take another slug of whisky to wash it down and out, I shoved the balut into my mouth. Immediately, I realized that the swallowing whole idea wouldn’t work, because the pieces were too big and chunky. I also realized that the holding breath idea wasn’t working, because the smell was so intense that it penetrated my sinuses even in the absence of airflow. I managed two chews before the gag reflex kicked in. On the verge of vomitting, I spat it out.
Very bummed that I couldn’t go through with it. Although fully expecting not to like balut, I’d believed myself capable of trying anything** at least once. I’d also been hoping to prove everyone wrong and quell rumors swirling in the office these days that I’m a food snob who would never deign to eat something like balut. But mostly, spitting out the balut in front of everyone, I feel like I’d insulted Filipino culture. What a loser.
**Then again, I can’t eat hongeo hwe, can’t even put it in my mouth.
Next time, I will succeed. But next time, way way more alcohol in advance, at night, in the dark, no picking it apart, and a small one.