leave your inhibitions at the door
I was born in the Philippines, but my family emigrated to the US when I was just a cuddly little 9-month old who would take sips of milk, slurp it, and comment on the balance of acidity, fruitiness, and supple tannins. Even though I’m as American as can be, my parents were still able to instill in us a strong sense of pride in our Filipino heritage. Regular readers of this blog have seen me say “Represent!” when one of my fellow Flips does well and seems there’s a bunch of them worth being proud of – Paul from Top Chef, Bruno Mars, the guy from Black Eyed Peas, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Nicole Scherzinger, Rob Schneider… OK, that last one’s a stretch. But I stand before you today (well at least I type before you) a humbled man. Not only have I betrayed my Filipino-ness, I’ve also failed to live up to my foodie responsibility to be adventurous and explore eclectic ethnic food. I tried, and failed miserably, to eat Balut.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s a Filipino street food delicacy that’s not for the faint of heart. I recall it being featured as a challenge on “Fear Factor” years ago and Cracked.com had a feature called “The World’s 6 Most Terrifying Foods”. It came in first place. Filipino food features some pretty disgusting things already – like dinaguan or your neighbor’s Doberman – but none of that compares to Balut. That’s pretty damning for what’s simply just a boiled duck egg.
What’s that? What’s wrong with a duck egg?
Did I mention it’s a duck egg with a mostly-formed embryo inside? Yes, it’s “the treat that tweets”. (Or is it “the snack that quacks”?)
On the day that Bugnutz left for Hungary to study abroad for the semester, he wanted to have lunch with me, his dad, and my mom. So we decided to hit up Little Quiapo, a Filipino restaurant on Chicago’s far north side that features a huge lunch buffet.
The buffet itself brought back fond memories of growing up and it’s been ages since I’ve had a lot of this food. Some of it, like the roast pig, is made in mass quantities. Others, like dinaguan, is stuff that I couldn’t get the family to go near, let alone eat. So I had to try everything.
While the selection was really broad, I was a little disappointed in the flavors. Just about everything I had didn’t match up to how my dad (or even I) cooked it. I guess that’s pretty common. It’s gotta be tough to serve food to people who grew up on mom and dad’s versions – it’s a losing game. But I didn’t let that stop me from gorging myself. As we waddled out of the dining area, I noticed they had a freezer right by the register. And in it, I saw this:
Bugnutz saw it too and dared me to get some. Having eaten dinaguan (and probably, unknowingly, a Doberman) I figured I could do this. And after writing this silly food blog for the past few months, I knew it was my duty to do it. So I agreed.
Now, I used to eat Balut when I was a kid – probably when I was five or six years old. But something happens during childhood and at some point you suddenly become more aware about what you’re eating. We hadn’t had it for a while and when we went to the Philippines when I was 12 or so, I was offered some. I remember holding it in my hand and getting grossed-out at the thought of it. In the past couple of years at family reunions, we’ve talked about getting some and I was all gung ho with the idea. Of course, that’s pretty easy to say when you have no idea where to buy it.
But now it was here, right in front of me. I bought two, with the idea of eating one and then playing a practical joke on my sister-in-law, whose idea of exotic food is boneless skinless chicken breast. I was going to put some in the fridge next to the regular eggs so that she’d get a little surprise the next time she made cookies. While driving home from the restaurant, I decided I should offer one to my mom. She was a little hesitant about taking it (claiming cholesterol) and even tried to “accidentally” leave it in my brother’s car. I knew I should’ve seen that as a warning sign.
We got back to my brother’s place and said I had to do a little work. Secretly, I was hoping that Bugnutz and bro would forget about my offering to eat it. No chance in hell. They called me down to the kitchen and there it was on a plate. I tried my best backing out, but they were relentless in their pressure. So I poured a big shot of tequila and started peeling. It looked and smelled absolutely nasty.
I had about twelve false starts where I’d just about pop it in my mouth but then backed out. Each time I was met with a two-man chorus of boos.
Finally, I had enough and said, “Let’s do this shit.” Famous last words.
I got a lot of yolk in the first bite and it tasted just like hardboiled egg. Not a big deal. But then I instinctively pulled it away from my mouth and saw what I just took a bite of.
No puking or heaving, but I just had to spit it out immediately and down the tequila. Of course, bro got a kick out of it.
Here’s the aftermath…
So, yes, I admit it – I’m not the foodie I thought I was. But I’m sure going to try again. I think the key is to have the tequila BEFORE the egg. Five times. And turn off the lights.
Anyone want to join me? I’ll bring the eggs.