Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicken Egg Embryo Food Experiment Goes So, So Wrong...

Photos and blog post by John Hoff

Readers of this blog know all-too-well about how willing I am to try almost any food, whether it's eating crickets to entertain kids at a NoMi birthday party, or sampling delicious buttery silkworm pupae (not so bad, but definitely not destined to become one of my faves) or checking out the legendary durian fruit, which is stinky in a fruit-i-licious way.

But some culinary adventures (like my recent attempt to chow down on gigantic African snails) don't go so well. It's not that I get physically ill (I can't recall ANY food that has made me physically ill, ever, with the exception of watermelon pickles circa 1974) but some foods are just a real letdown and simply don't taste good at all. So it was with boiled chicken embryos...

I had heard the culinary legend of "balut." This food, which consists of duck or chicken embryos, is a popular bar snack in Thailand and other parts of Asia, and is known by different names depending on the country.

When I noticed "baby egg(s)" being sold at Bangkok Market (so often the locus of my culinary forays) I inquired excitedly about how to prepare this food.

Boil it, I was told. Then dip it in fish sauce and hot sauce, mixed together.

Three Crabs Brand is considered by many to be the best fish sauce for this sort of thing. The clerk showed me precisely where in the store to find a bottle of Three Crabs which was about three bucks. A buck a crab.

That first day when I noticed "baby eggs" (note the disturbing use of Easter clip art) I was tied up in some other activity (a frivolous lawsuit would be one example) and I didn't feel like I had time to deal with the eggs. I thought, well, I will get the eggs another day. That's when the snowstorm hit and, day after day, there were no eggs. I was told the truck with the eggs couldn't get through. I actually bought the bottle of Three Crabs Brand fish sauce, just to be ready.

"It's a sign," my girlfriend Megan told me. "God doesn't want you to eat a baby chick."

And then one weekend--it was a weekend I had my son Alex along with, so he could be freaked out by what his father is willing to eat--God finally made the "baby eggs" available. I only bought two of them, which was a whole buck. When I boiled the eggs over at Megan's house, I didn't have the fish sauce, so I used Hoisin sauce. I don't think the sauce would have made any difference, though, no matter how high-quality it might be.

Let me tell you a thing or two about eating chicken embryos.

The egg is an odd shape. There is a cavity at the top of the egg, so it's flat on top. It's hard to make out the various chicken parts, but I know I saw half-formed feathers which looked like tufts of hair, but were soft and slimy. That's why some Chinese call this food a "haired egg" I guess.

There is a big difference between the part of the balut which is chicken embryo and the part which is still egg yolk, which hovers down at the bottom. The embryo tastes like, well, nothing much. It doesn't have a lot of flavor. It doesn't taste like egg, or meat. There's not much texture there. I expected, I don't know, the crunch of cartilage but it's just a ball of soft protein.

The yolk part is entirely different. It's not like egg yolk anymore, it's more firm, almost rubbery or leathery.

If I was on a desert island and had to survive 14-day-old embryonic eggs, I could get by just fine. And that's kind of a comfort. But now with the mystery of balut behind me, I realize my expectations of something exotic and flavorful were more pleasurable than what balut actually delivered. In fact, I could only eat one of the eggs. Megan told me to throw the other one in the vacant lot next door. Don't let the dog eat it. She doesn't want him to get a taste for baby chicks.

Maybe I will have more luck with the lamb brains at Saffron Restaurant.


veg*nation said...

this single post may do as much to promote veganism as salmonella, Compassion over Killing (, Gary Francione, PCRM, and Vegan Outreach combined! ;-)

Johnny Northside! said...

I can't really argue about that. Sometimes meat just DOESN'T taste good and you have to wonder, gee, why did an animal have to die for THAT?

dawnelle bryant said...


Johnny Northside! said...

Last night I had some mock duck which was on special at a Chinese place. And as I ate it, I pictured a duck flying alive and free.

And, actually, I got another meal out of the leftovers, too.

Recently, I was at an army chow hall that offered a mushroom burger and it was really yummy.

Maxwellarthur48 said...

Wow!!!! I've been vegetarian for 10 years. Never been too fond of eggs every since my mom told me about the chick fetus she discovered when making a cake.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea.

Absoklutekly incredible.

I neraly vomityed on the keyboard.

Johnny Northside! said...

That's how I felt when I saw your spelling.

Stephanie Fox said...

I tried one of these duck eggs for an article I'm writing for my column in the Twin Cities Daily Planet. It wasn't bad. Really. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad. But, the dog loved it.

Johnny, I agree with you about the spelling.