An Auckland restaurant serving duck eggs with developing embryo has been cleared by the SPCA for possible cruelty against unhatched ducklings but its suppliers are now being investigated.
The society said it received complaints following a Herald report that Island Joe's Hawaiian Barbecue in Onehunga had put balut on the menu, and an investigator was sent to the premises.
The dish, which sometimes comes with a duck embryo with feathers and beak, is considered a Filipino delicacy and believed to boost male fertility and libido.
"I can confirm that a SPCA Auckland inspector investigated a concern regarding balut being served at the restaurant," said Christine Kalin, the society's chief executive. "We will be extending our investigation to include the processes utilised by the suppliers of the eggs."
The restaurant said that with the ongoing investigation, it would be serving balut as just a "blackboard special".
Ms Kalin said the restaurant had not breached the Animal Welfare Act and the society was satisfied with the practices employed there, and was now turning its investigation to the suppliers. The fertilised duck egg is boiled and served hot, and diners consume the broth, yolk and young chick with salt or a chilli, garlic and vinegar sauce.
"The eggs arrive at the restaurant in a chilled state and are placed in the refrigerator and accordingly the embryos would not be alive at the time of boiling," she said.
Island Joe's owner Cecilia Tan said staff had also received calls accusing the restaurant of being "cruel" and "heartless", with some using profanities. She said the SPCA investigator had thought that "maybe we drop the egg with a live duck squirming in boiling water".
"I assured him that was not the case, he said we are not doing anything wrong."
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, who has done studies on food introduced by migrant communities, believed the complaints were due to "a lack of cultural understanding".
"Food is a good vehicle for bringing cultures together, but food is also very much a function of particular cultures and you are going to get culture clashes around food," he said.
Professor Spoonley said balut was still considered "too exotic", just as dishes like chicken feet and sashimi were a decade ago.
"It's getting a sort of a 'I wouldn't eat that' or 'why would anybody eat that' sort of reaction."
Former consul-general of the Philippines Emilie Shi, 70, who has been consuming balut since she was 15, said she did not see anything cruel about eating balut.
"Eating balut is very much a Filipino cultural thing just like how some Chinese eat snakes. Isn't it more cruel that some people here eat live huhu grubs?"
• Boiled duck egg with developing duck embryo.
• Common streetfood in the Philippines, also popular in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
• Added to the menu at Auckland restaurant last month.
• Philippines now NZ's fourth largest source country for migrants.