The World’s Most Frightening Food: My Experience of Balut!
I have a pretty strong stomach, and consider myself to be pretty adventurous when it comes to trying anything new, particularly when it comes to foods, having tried all manner of animal offal, insects, pigs feet, and more, but during a recent trip to The Philippines, I came up against my most challenging endeavour yet – the notorious Balut.
I was curious to find this infamous roadside snack having seen it on various travel documentaries while growing up. On seeking it out, I would suggest it certainly deserves it’s place at the top of the list of world’s most frightening foods (along with the equally intimidating tamilok, only available in the Palawan province of The Philippines, but more on that later).
If the description of balut alone is not enough to put you off (it’s a fertilised duck embryo), then the sight of it certainly is! It looks innocuous enough on the roadside stalls – piles of hard boiled eggs, each labelled with the age of the embryo in days. The camera seems to have picked up a lot more detail than was visible to the naked eye (either that or my brain was screening what my eyes were seeing!) either way, luckily I didn’t register the little feet sticking up in the egg white. I followed our Filipino friend’s example, cracking the shell, drinking the juice (I baulked here and was very close to quitting, but instead let my lips just touch the watery liquid). The egg segmenting as I shakily peeled it: I started with the unremarkable hard boiled yolk, before moving onto the grey mottled main part of the egg. I dipped it in salt and put all of it in my mouth in one go, not wanting to risk trying to bite it in half, and closing my eyes, I began to chew, telling myself it was only a boiled egg! And I have to say that to eat, it really wasn’t that bad! I was tense and sweating, ready to crunch gristle and sinew, but actually, to my surprise and relief, the texture was simply that of a hard boiled egg, with the a taste of chicken. If I’d been blindfolded and ignorant, I would have guessed at an egg boiled in chicken stock. I had heard stories and watched documentaries on this ‘horror food’ many times, but actually I found it a lot more palatable than Palawan’s native tamilok.
I had been assured that tamilok was a marine creature living in the mangroves that resembles oysters in texture and taste, so I was more than a little perturbed to discover that it is actually a long and slimy marine wood worm, pulled from inside the tree trunks, and with a strange hard shell-like mouth resembling a skull or eyeball! These unappetising delicacies are served raw with a side bowl of vinegar to dip prior to eating. To the vendor’s bemusement, we insisted on them chopping the seemingly endless worms into more bite-size pieces, allowing us to drop the slimy, dripping morsels into our mouths! After watching fellow blogger Sally from My Custard Pie struggle to chew her piece, I went with the oyster technique, getting it into my mouth and swallowing before my throat and stomach had time to acknowledge what was happening! Honestly, the taste was no more satisfying the texture or appearance, and it’s not something I have any great desire to experience again! Since my visit, I have seen it featured on a TV programme I was watching – Last Woman Standing – and even these athletes struggled to stomach it! (check them out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1cYn-E7kzI)
On both occasions it took mountains of dried mango to get my mind and stomach to be friends with me again!