Here's The Scenario:
You wake up. It's a normal morning and you need to make breakfast before you head off to work. After you freshen up, you trudge downstairs to make yourself an omelet. You put the pan on the stove. You get the carton of eggs out of the fridge, and when you crack open the egg, instead of yolk coming out, a fully-formed bird fetus falls out.
Actually take a moment to imagine that plopping down onto your frying pan.
That is essentially what this post is about.
My quest for strange food continues with the local favorite, “baby duck.” To prepare this dish, duck eggs (that are a bit closer to hatching than you might think is okay) are boiled in water and then served, shell and all. It really is a late-term duck abortion. When you crack open the shell, you will see the mostly developed embryo of the baby duck inside, along with a veiny clump of yolk. It is eaten in different capacities all across Eastern Asia, from China to the Philippines. Vietnam has its own rendition of this dish.
At my request, a couple Vietnamese friends of mine took me out to eat it for lunch. Before the baby duck, I was served what is best described as an eel salad. The eels were served fried. They weren’t half bad either. But let’s skip ahead to the main event.
Baby duck, or ‘Hột Vịt Lộn’ in Vietnamese, is a food for all occasions and all times of day. The more common name for this dish is ‘balut’ but the locals in Hanoi just say ‘baby duck’ when they need to translate it into English. In my research before this lunch the pictures I had seen looked like this:
My own experience turned out to be a little different. The embryos were not quite as developed as all that. The eggs were served with various leaves and ginger root. After the shells were cracked and removed they looked like hardboiled eggs… but with something inside them. They looked like whatever had been inside had been in the midst of wriggling and squirming (maybe in the boiling water) because against the transparent outer layer of the eggs was pressed a small wing and a beak.
I asked where exactly the baby duck was inside and they dug into the embryo further to reveal the fetus’s strange head. Sure enough, there it was. The neck, head, eyes, and beak were all clearly visible to me. The full body of the tiny fetus would require some excavation from the hard boiled egg that entombed it but I felt like just seeing the head was enough.
In retrospect I wish that I had made more of an effort to dig out the bird inside. My pictures aren't outrageous enough. I don't think that would have been a help to my cause though. After we had unearthed just the head and neck I was already struggling to put it into my mouth and actually start chewing. But eventually I found the courage. I was imagining crunching down on a tiny skull, beak and spine, but my teeth went straight through. It was like a warm, lumpy hard-boiled egg. It was the kind of hard-boiled egg that might prompt somebody to ask “hey honey… how long ago did you say you bought these?”
Honestly though, it was a lot less gross than I expected. I can 100% see how people would like this (provided they like eggs in general). Kind of like eating buffalo penis and testicles, had I not known what I was eating I might have liked it a lot more. But we'll never know now.
My friends were pretty amused at my fearful consumption of the egg. They said that they had been eating it since childhood and that it was one of their favorite foods. And here I was giving myself the pep-talk / countdown combo in order to even try it. In a joking attempt to feel better about myself I asked if there might be any Western food that they were afraid to try. They laughed.
You’ve got us there Vietnam: your food is decidedly more exciting than ours in America. We have been soundly beaten. But excitement usually isn’t what I look for in my lunch anyways. I prefer not being able to make eye contact with my food as I eat it.
I have been away from all my boring, fatty, American food back home for too long. Long distance relationships are hard, man.