When I found out I was going to Cambodia the first thing that dawned on me was the realisation I was going to have to eat a duck foetus and a tarantula. Ever since finding out about the thing the Filipinos call the balut I've known that one day the time would come, I don't allow myself not to try things so if ever one crossed my path I was tucking in, whether I liked it or not. For those that don't know the balut, or egg duck baby as it' translates to from Khmer, is made by allowing a fertilised egg to near the point of hatching before it's boiled, foetus and all, and served as a snack. I'd read about them on blogs and knew they were common in Cambodia - my time had come.
Our three days in Phnom Penh passed and we'd not seen a single one, even taxi drivers hadn't been able to help, and I thought I was going to have to return having failed in my task. We flew to Siem Reap though to check out the temples of Angkor and a chat with our airport taxi revealed they were everywhere there. We checked in and made our way in to town where the street stalls with bowls of white eggs sat atop steamers confirmed that tonight was the night.
I wasn't going to hit this sober so we headed to a bar for a jug of beer before we made our way to the stall and ordered. The baby eggs were served with a pot of salt, pepper and MSG and another of garlic laden chili sauce. A bowl of various herbs and lime wedges provided another route to mask the taste. The man brought over the eggs and cracked the tops like hardboiled eggs but I wanted to see mine in all its glory so I shelled it completely.
The time had come so I dipped into my salt mix, spooned a little chili on top and took a bite. Far from being unpleasant tasting what I got was meaty, juicy and very tender. Thinking about it that's not too surprising really as the animal's so young it's not been born yet and it was steamed in a sealed environment. The bones and beak are so soft you don't notice them and the feathers are also seen but not felt. I'll admit it did look pretty rough though, especially after a bite.
I polished it off and was so impressed that I ordered another. It was only after I'd finished the second that I noticed the rather fetching vein formation in the shells. I have to admit that a couple of beers down and high on endorphins following my successful mission I did try and scrape these from the shell to see what they tasted like but they wouldn't budge.
In conclusion if you get the chance to try one give it a go. Far from being unpleasant it's a pretty tasty snack, in fact the worse thing about it was the bulletproof texture of the yolk from the long time steaming. On top of getting to find out for yourself what they taste like you also tend to get in awe responses when you tell folk you've eaten one.
PS the girlfriend didn't share my enthusiasm. She ate one in its entirety but it was accompanied with lots of arm waving, frequent exclamations and intermittent mouthfuls of coke to wash it down. Still, she can say she's eaten one which is pretty rare for someone from Britain.