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As part of the research phase for an upcoming survey of Chicago Filipino food, I had dinner at the home of Sharon Bautista, who posts as happy_stomach on LTHForum and who offered to introduce the food of her ancestral homeland to any LTHers who might be interested.
One of my principal theories of Filipino restaurant food is that it’s pretty much all “homemade” in a way unlike the restaurant food of many other cultures. What Filipino families cook at home is basically what’s served at restaurants. One major exception to this working principle is balut, a fertilized duck egg with a partially developed embryo that I've never seen on a restaurant menu, though I understand it’s a favorite food in the Philippines, specifically in bars but also at home parties.
Once, pondering the many crates of these eggs at a Vietnamese grocery store on Broadway, I asked the clerk (perhaps with unintentional suspicion in my voice) if there were any bones in the eggs, and she assured me, “Yes … but they are very small bones.” That was enough for me to take a pass on balut for a few years, but I figured Sharon's party was a good opportunity to give this challenging food a shot. I bought a half-dozen balut from Hoa Nam (1101 W. Argyle)--at 75 cents a pop, not a bad deal. At the party the eggs were boiled, and then under the tutelage of Luis, the Filipino-American boyfriend of foodie1, another LTH poster, we dug in.
We started by cracking the egg, sprinkling it with salt, and drinking the liquor, which tastes remarkably like seafood broth. This was my favorite part.
Then, after removing the hard and largely inedible calcium crown, you extract the embryo. The yolk was a lot like the yolk of a chicken egg, maybe richer and a lot bigger. Inside was the little bird: tiny wings, beak, eyes, proto-feathers, the works.
It was challenging, but we all finished our balut. Was it good? Well . . . the actual birdie was slightly slimy, maybe a little salty, and with very mild flavor. After you get over the conceptual hurdle it's no more difficult than eating your first oyster.
Grace Delcano of Galewood Cookshack, a Filipina by birth, told me that balut is “man food,” which I took to mean it's the snack of macho meatheads who’ve maybe had too much to drink. Yet another theory of Filipino food to take under consideration.