If you grew up in the United States you have probably been subjected to the American Egg Board’s promotional campaign that started in the late 70’s touting the virtues of the egg, and if you are like me, that Incredible Edible Egg Jingle is burned into the back of your brain…..hearing it is like a trip down memory lane. My guess is that the American Egg Board would probably have a tough time marketing egg embryo’s to the American public. On the face of it, the food appears vile, revolting and disgusting to most folks in the west. Let me try to change your mind, expand your horizon’s, open up your mouth and say ahhhh!
What is It?
The fertilized egg, be it chicken or duck is probably most widely known as Balut. This snack is famous in the Philippines and is a cultural icon, akin to their national dish of Chicken Adobo. In my travels through South East Asia I have eaten chicken and duck embryos in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. So let me apologize now to all my Filipino friends, Vietnam wins the fertilized egg contest. As with most things food related, Vietnam just takes it to another level. Eating in Vietnam is an event and for most Vietnamese the world stops revolving when they stop to eat! So let me explain……
Trung Vit Lon
Trung Vit Lon (pronounced Veet Lon) or Hot Vit Lon usually appears around 4PM on the various street corner eateries and in the containers of vendors moving about on foot hawking their wares. In the Philippines Balut (pronounced Bahloot) is usually available in the evening because it is viewed as an aphrodisiac. It may be? Why? The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in all of Asia. The Vietnamese do not consider Trung Vit Lon a traditional aphrodisiac. In both Vietnam and the Philippines, the eggs are commonly consumed with liquor or beer if you are a man.
So what’s in the shell? The fertilized duck eggs are 16 to 20 days in age. The older it is, the larger the chick and the more pronounced its feathers, bones, and beak. An embryo at 17 days has a beak and feathers. Normally, after being fertilized, a duck hatches after 26 to 28 days of incubation. The taste depends on the breed of duck. Hot Vit Lon from Muscovy ducks are considered among the best. In the Philippines I have usually encountered fertilized chicken eggs and since chickens hatch at 21 days, most chicken Balut is 13-14 days old. The egg also will contain a small white albumen (a rubbery section) which most people do not eat. It is like chewing on rubber and tastes like fingernails!
In Vietnam the Trung Vit Lon is typically placed in a small cup which holds the egg upright and a tiny spoon is used to tap the broad end of the egg to crack it open and then break the membrane. Typically the juice (amniotic fluid) is sucked out or drank out of the egg like doing a shot. The solids are then scooped out and eaten or the entire embryo is removed and placed in a bowl. In Vietnam the eggs are served with white pepper and salt, chili and Vietnamese coriander. The coriander is a fresh herb that tastes like cilantro but finishes with a bit of heat.
Filipino Balut and its Variations
In the Philippines the process is a bit less refined. The Balut is usually cracked against the nearest hard surface, a bit of the shell peeled away, the juice sucked, salt and vinegar added to the embryo in the shell, and then eaten straight out of the shell. Regardless of how they are consumed, I will never pass up a Hot Vit Lon, Balut or Pong Tia Coon as they are known in Cambodia. But as I mentioned earlier, I like the whole ritual of eating them in Vietnam in a street corner food stall or buying them off a vendor on the street and getting the little plastic bag full of all the accompaniments.
The Philippines also has a version called Balut Penoy which has only been allowed to develop for 7-9 days. The Penoy is very similar to a hard boiled egg but it is much yellower in color, softer and a bit on the creamy side when eaten. Real Balut eaters think that the Penoy version is for amateurs. Last, not to be outdone by fried cheese curds here in the USA, they also have a version of Balut that is deep fried. The embryo is removed from the shell, battered and dropped in hot oil and served in a bowl that has been covered with a plastic bag….a real thing of beauty!
What’s on the label?
The eggs are full of nutrition. For the ideological eaters out there, each egg has about 190 calories and offers 14 grams of protein and tons of B-carotene, calcium and other good stuff. They are a great source of protein. I would guess that many were consumed in Vietnam in the late 70’s as they struggled to develop their agricultural sector and suffered through rampant food shortages.
If you are now Jonesing for a Balut, Trung Vit Lon, or Poon Tia Coon on your next visit to SEA or your local Asian grocery here are the prices:
Vietnam: 7000-9000 Dong (33-43 cents)
Cambodia: 1000-1200 Riel (25-30 cents)
Philippines: 13-17 Peso’s (30-40 cents)
Laos: 4000 Kip (50 cents)
Hawaii Asian Market: 1.75-2.00 dollars
Did I change your mind about the Incredible Edible Egg…..Embryo? Well I am sure many of you can’t even begin to imagine how anyone can eat fertilized eggs. Remember, looks can be deceiving. While we may struggle with the concept, folks in Asia think it is weird that we eat moldy, stinky cheese like Roquefort. Have you ever gone cheese shopping in Asia in a regular store? The masses don’t eat it; it is as alien to them as fertilized eggs are to most of us.