Steamed fish topped with crushed peanuts - - typically eaten with rice paper, cold vermicelli noodles, fresh greens, and, of course, fish sauce to dip your hand-rolled spring rolls in. This traditional Vietnamese dish is just one of the many meals that the locals like to indulge in, while sipping on some Heineken in a mug over one large block of ice.
Upon my arrival in Vietnam, not only was I excited about getting in touch with my family roots and the US to Vietnamese Dong conversion rate. Being surrounded with homemade Vietnamese food was like - - being at home away from home. With the constant aromas of hot bowls of Pho (beef noodle soup) lingering in the air, I feel that I have arrived in the right place, and most certainly, at the right time.
Within the first few days of hanging out with my relatives in Ho Chi Minh city, I have already been exposed to a variety of traditional Vietnamese dishes - some familiar and some pretty damn exotic. Pho? I've had it all my life but never before, have I had it like this...the Pho man behind the glass case boiling the noodles so effortlessly - - only taking a mere three minutes to have my big bowl of noodles and beef tenderloins ready for me to devour. Even more so, the price of one large bowl of Pho is approximately 2 US dollars which I can absolutely spare for dinner!
Pho and steamed fish filled spring-rolls; those two are dishes I have become quite familiar with.
But, Balut, on the other hand...(see last few pictures of the eggs below) is something I have only experienced once in my life- - and something I have a difficult time remembering. What I do recall is my mother taking a spoon and cracking the top half of an interesting looking egg - - to expose an almost fully developed duck baby inside. But, of course, when I was younger - - I didn't really know what it was and thought all eggs came from chickens. I also remember her sprinkling some type of magical seasoning over the exposed egg and then taking that spoon to scoop up a piece of the egg. I recall only taking a few bites and believed to have enjoyed it. Who knows - - it's been over 10+ years since that particular experience.
Fast forward to the age of 27 years young, it was if the first-time experience never even happened and I had to start from scratch. I contemplated trying this exotic dish - - and, according to Wikipedia:
"A balut is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled alive and eaten in the shell."
Oh, man. I thought to myself, 'What would Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain do?' Well, that is an easy answer. They would both devour this duck egg the same way I devoured my bowl of Pho! So...I cracked the top shell of the egg with the metal spoon I hold so anxiously. Meanwhile, my dear relatives was staring at me like the American that I am...Oh gosh, how I must have looked while taking on such a simple task of ingesting something that is considered to be quite the delicacy in Southeast Asia. While peeling open the top half of the shell - - I couldn't help but peer into the egg and feel sorry for the fertilized duck embryo...quietly hoping this duck is resting peacefully somewhere, somehow.
And, in the duration of just a few seconds, I scooped a little piece of duck embryo onto my spoon - - closed my eyes shut, and took a spoonful. Surprisingly, it was all right. Some of it tasted like a hard-boiled egg yolk. But, I felt some of the texture and it was somewhat chewy - - not wanting to know what the heck I was even chewing on. I promised myself I would finish the whole egg and hope Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Bourdain reads this blog entry someday.
I must say, I am proud of this particular challenge. It is probable I will never partake in Balut again but, if someone were to double-dog dare me or pay me lots of cash to do it in America, I'd do it in a heartbeat. With experience, comes the feeling of being comfortable with the previous feeling of being uncomfortable, right??