The eggs with legs…

by Ronnie Hoyle

THERE are some parts of traditional Philippine life which stick in the mind long after they happen. One of them is your first taste of tuba or bahalina, which you might be persuaded to try when you meet up with a group of local friends for the first time.

Another is balut.

It sounds innocuous enough when you first hear the pedal cyclist with the cool box wandering around the town, village or resort ringing his bell and yelling out ‘Balut – balut’ and the local people rush to buy one or two each. It makes you wonder what all the fuss is about: after all, it is only a boiled egg, isn’t it?

Now, there is a reason why this local delicacy only seems to come around the area after the sun has well and truly set over the horizon: you get a bit more courageous after a few bottles of beer, and everything looks better if you cannot see things properly…because balut is not just a boiled egg like you first thought.

The sniggers of your local friends on Alona Beach if you are a ‘foreigner’ on your first visit to the archipelago should have been the first warning that it is not exactly the same sort of egg as the one you ate for breakfast with your toast soldiers and bacon and beans and sausage.

The second warning should have struck home when the challenges were made to you to complete the assigned task without baulking and making yourself look like a coward who does not enjoy real Philippine cuisine.

This is the egg with legs, plus wings, feathers, beak, bones, claws and a few more bits and pieces besides that you really do not want to think about too much.

The Chinese would have us believe that the real quality of an egg comes out when it is a thousand years old…the Filipino is a little bit more impatient than that and cannot wait a few centuries to get at their delicacy: between 16 and 21 days is enough, they say.

By that time, the chick inside has grown enough, so now you just boil it, let it cool down, peel off the shell at one end, add a little salt and swallow it down – chew it if that becomes necessary…it usually is.
Of course, the contents of the egg are a little bit crunchier than your normal boiled variety - and that leads to some complications for people who have queasy stomachs and active imaginations.

The basic idea is not to think about it, and even hold your nose to eliminate the effects of any olfactory senses: if you do accidentally sniff, the contents of the egg sometimes leave the stomach via the emergency exit far faster than they went down…and even some Filipinos cannot manage it if they have not been raised to believe that this adds more than a little bit of ‘oomph’ to both male and female virility, just like swaki, which is the central pink meat of raw sea urchins.

Sometimes, some Filipinos even eat three balut in the same evening – one after the other (sorry – there are some exceptions!) - so watch out boys and girls: it is supposed to be more effective than a dozen oysters shipped in from the island of Masbate, and you know what they are supposed to do. It could even be the main reason for the forecast population explosion in the Philippines!

Originally, balut was the term applied to duck eggs and in some parts of the country ducks are raised on special farms just to produce eggs which are incubated for the right number of days, although how anyone found out or could proved in the beginning that eating an egg after the usual ‘sell-by and eat-by’ dates could improve your sex life is anyone’s guess…and is likely to remain one of those great unsolved mysteries until the end of time.

Nowadays, the term balut is equally applied to chicken eggs incubated for the same period, although no one has so far coined the phrase: ‘Cor – luvva chicken!’

Naturally fertilized eggs are normally taken from broody chickens or ducks and then incubated separately, the eggs being turned each day to mimic the actions of the bird. With a strong light behind the egg, you can even watch the development of the embryo inside to a certain extent.

Of course, with nothing getting into the egg and nothing getting out, it is only perception that makes the real difference. The only thing that has actually happened is transmutation of the raw life-giving materials that the bird put into the shell in the first place, so it’s the same as if you are eating a boiled, fried or scrambled egg, isn’t it? But – as they say – it’s the thought that counts.

That’s the real problem: don’t even think about it…just do it…and try and survive the experience!