Well, I'm now in Manila and happy as a tahong.
I've already eaten a zillion delicious variations of pork, vinegar, fish, and deep-frying as well as more pork, more vinegar, more fish, and more deep-fried stuff. I'll do a giant Filipino food post soon, I promise.
But before that, I want to step back a bit in time and recount a now rather prolonged odyssey I've had with the most (in)famous Filipino food of all: the balut.
A balut is a fertilized duck's egg, eaten when the embryo has gotten quite near ready to be hatched. It seems to strike fear in most palefaces (though is also eaten in much of the rest of SE Asia), is praised for its texture -- as you are supposed to be able to detect the crunch of the beak -- and is reputed, like many things dubious, to be an aphrodisiac.
When I failed to eat balut last time I was in this part of the world, many of you readers gave me deserved grief. So when I saw a little handwritten sign in the Filipino supermarket near my house in LA that said "balut," I knew I was in.
Once home, I used the standard method of tapping the top of the shell off so you can drink the liquid. I had read that they were only lightly cooked, and when I started sipping the liquid, I thought to myself, Wow, this is really lightly cooked -- as in really.
So I drank it all -- nor was it pleasant in the least -- and then I unwrapped the rest of the thing and found this inside:
Friends, you know me to be an idiot. I looked at that imminent avian and thought to myself, Well, I guess lightly cooked is pretty damn lightly cooked, and then i popped the whole thing in my mouth at once and ate it.
Nor was it pleasant in the least.
Now, I tend to like pretty much everything, so I realized maybe something was wrong. So I fired up the Google machine -- for, while intelligent people research and then act, I clearly do the reverse -- and I saw many images of yellow hardboiled-ish-egg-looking orbs -- but with heads in them. None looked like the photo above
And then i realized: I had eaten a balut, but it had been raw.
(When I told my Filipino colleague Andrea Roxas this, she died laughing, called her grandmother in the Philippines, who also died laughing and apparently still asks about the dumb white guy who eats raw balut. I'm a family favorite!)
As to moments of travel-related dipshittedness on my part, I think this even beat out smoking Burmese cigars backward (thus inhaling the entire filter) or trying to chew the mega-roach's wings as my biggest rookie mistake. Some live, others learn.
I knew I had to try again. So I went back, bought another, boiled it this time, and then shot this video:
Upshot: that was one seriously overcooked balut. When I recounted both my mishaps to another Filipino friend, John Pingol, he postulated that the grocery would never have sold me a raw one -- as I had suspected from the get-go -- and thus had gotten the one in a million raw one the first time, but then the second time, had just cooked an already cooked one. Good times.
Well, now I'm in Manila, so you can be damn sure I was going to do it a third time and try to get it right
(apologies that my forehead looks like Gary Oldman's in Bram Stoker's Dracula...)
Success! Though it still mostly tasted like a regular hardboiled chicken egg, and the bird in this one was so small, it didn't have much of an effect. I felt I needed to go back and find a bigger, Erik- or Billy-sized fetus to get the full effect.
Fortune smiled on me, and my next one had this titan inside, taking up pretty much the entire egg -- and so developed it even had real feathers and feet!
That, my friends, is a balut to test your resolve.
But braved it I did, if only to recount back to you lovelies. So if you want to know just how giant the thing is when seen next to my head, have a gander. Or to have explained the umami effect (or, were I to coin a neologism, the counter-umami effect, as it was) of highly developed feathers, beak and feet eaten in a lightly boiled state, spend another 90 seconds with me. I'm sure it will be more fun for you than it was for me.
Though balut will never be my favorite breakfast, and though much of the point really was lost on me, I'm glad I tried (and tried, and tried). For not only should everyone's norms should be shaken to their taproots, but also because unpleasant things push the amplitude of your life's vibration just as the joyous ones do, and I think that by plumbing deeper below the axis you make yourself that much more capable of rising up above it. Melville's Catskill eagle, anyone?
(And, now that the balut is crossed off, anyone have anything else they want me to eat while I'm here? Or any culinary misadventures you want to share? I love hearing from you.)