Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Fear Factor food for some, Filipino delicacy for others

Grace Cussell tries balut at Island Joe's Hawaiian BBQ in Onehunga. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Grace Cussell tries balut at Island Joe's Hawaiian BBQ in Onehunga. Photo / Dean Purcell.

It is called one of the most disgusting and terrifying foods, and has been featured on Fear Factor and Survivor.

Now, one Auckland restaurant is putting balut - duck egg with a developing embryo, that sometimes come with feathers and beak - on it's menu.

Balut is hard to find outside the Philippines, but more adventurous diners can now have the Filipino delicacy for $4 a pop at Island Joe's Hawaiian Barbecue in Onehunga.

Filipino delicacy balut. Photo / Greg Bowker

Owner Cecilia Tan, originally from the Philippines, said adding the 20-day-old fertilised egg to the menu was to meet the demand of her Filipino customers.

"This is our favourite delicacy and comfort food, and there is a strong demand because there are now so many Filipinos living in Auckland," Ms Tan said.

According to Immigration New Zealand figures, the Philippines is now New Zealand's fourth largest source country for migrants, behind China, Britain and India.

Ms Tan said she was introduced to balut as a child and ate it regularly as a meal during her university days because it was "cheap and nutritious".

The dish is a favourite, especially to Filipino with ethnic Chinese backgrounds, and is commonly sold as streetfood.

The fertilised duck egg is boiled and served hot - the broth surrounding the embryo is sipped before the yolk and young chick are consumed.

It can be taken with salt and/or a chilli, garlic and vinegar sauce, available at the restaurant.

"I'm hoping my non-Filipino diners will see balut as a bit of a novelty fun food that they can order as a fear factor-type challenge," said Ms Tan.

Emilie Shi, 70, a former Auckland-based consul-general of the Philippines, said she started eating balut when she was 15 and had been hooked since.

Ms Shi said she enjoyed the combination of flavours of savoury broth, warm yolk and tender young chick, but admits the sight of an egg that had a compressed bird, veins and developing wings can be quite revolt-ing.

"All I can say is that balut tastes better than it looks."

She said it is believed that balut comes with health benefits, including being able to boost male fertility and libido.

The egg dish is an object of culinary fascination around the world, and its revolting appearance has put it on many "bizarre, disgusting, strange food" lists.

It has also been featured in many television shows as part of eating challenges including the Amazing Race Australia and Hell's Kitchen.

In 2012, High School Musical star Zac Efron posted a video of himself eating balut and said in a talk show interview that "it really wasn't that bad".

Until now, balut has only been available in Auckland at some weekend markets and selected Filipino grocery stores.

Embryo dish a quacking great experience

Despite the big surprise I received when googling what exactly a duck embryo was, tasting the Philippine dish balut wasn't too bad.

Once I recovered from the initial idea of digesting a bird fetus complete with eyes and beak (it hadn't matured enough yet to grow feathers), the very hospitable ladies at Hawaiian BBQ in Onehunga presented me with a bowl of the eggs and showed how to eat them.

I guess food coming with instructions is a sign you're in for something interesting. I cracked open the bottom of the egg, which looked just like a usual chicken's egg, and peeled back some of the shell. Inside it was yellow and black.

Before I got to eat the embryo I was told to sip the surrounding broth which I did hesitantly. It was the taste of fishy soup. Then I dissected the rest of the egg and chomped down the first section. It was similar to hard boiled egg yolk, though I used a heap of salt. I wanted it to taste as European as possible.

Saving the best till last, I had a good look at the embryo's not-quite-formed head, neck, eyes and beak and was assured their texture was soft and chewy. Not wanting to take the risk, I swallowed the remainders all at once, not touching the sides. Go hard or go home right?

The bowl of balut was still waiting on the table when I'd finished but one was enough for me. The earthy aftertaste of these dishes reminded me of a Maori hangi, a good distraction from the lurking idea of a baby duck trying to crawl up my oesophagus. I would recommend the experience to anyone willing to take a quack at interesting cuisine - it tastes better than it seems.

• Baradene College student Grace Cussell, 15, has been on work experience with the Herald this week

- NZ Herald

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