While I was trying to find my way to Siem Reap’s famed ‘night market’ I saw this woman vending boiled eggs in a traditional shoulder pole, balancing two wooden sieves of equal weight on both ends of the stick. Eggs are boiled in a metallic pot and a clay stove. I noticed the discarded shells have these brownish dark veins running through its interior. Now, that looks like a ‘balut’. Unfortunately the vendor doesn;t speak English (rare because most people in town speaks ‘ok’ English) so I had to buy to sample. The last time I’ve eaten one was last year–I was salivating like a rabid dog!
And lo and behold, it’s ‘balut’!
They serve it in this charming ceramic egg holder on a plate sprinkled with Cambodian mint leaves. You’re provided with a teaspoon, to crack open and scoop out the duck embryo egg. Yum. Instead of salt and vinegar garnished with ‘sili’ and garlic, Cambodians use lime, richly sprinkled with powdered pepper. The mint leaves are then dipped in this mixture and eaten. This somehow balance the taste of ‘pong tia koon’. But honestly, give me rock salt and I’m going to down these ‘baluts’ like chips!
I did pretty well. I ate, what, four? This amused the lady vendor. She probably thought that this was my first time consuming what she believes is a uniquely local delicacy. I tried telling her we have ‘pong tia kun’ back home and that it goes by the name, balooooot! But we can’t understand each other and so, I just proceeded binging on her ‘boiled duck eggs’.
In the US, and I think in most western countries, the tradition of eating boiled fertilized egg embryo is largely identified with us Filipinos. I remember that ‘Fear Factor’ episode where contestants were made to eat ‘balut’. What a terrible show. Some of the contestant almost vomited. Most of them are not even chewing it–it’s going straight down. While we Filipinos savor every moment of it–we sip the ‘sabaw’ like a rare vintage wine.
I thought that the Chinese only brought ‘balut’ to our shores–turns out, our south-east Asian neighbors likely had knowledge preparing fertilized duck embryo long before we claimed it as ours. That the Khmers and Vietnamese have their version of ‘balut’ could be explained by their southern Chinese heritage.