Adventure Eating in Hanoi, Vietnam – Part I, Balut

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A good deal of my travel adventures focus around food – specifically, bizarre food … food that most of my friends are repulsed by … food that isn’t even considered to be food here in the good old US of A. But I love it. And many times for me, the opportunity for world class adventure eating is what makes a great vacation even better.

While in Peru I dined on cuy (guinea pig) and snacked on live suri grubs from the Amazon rainforest. In Nicaragua I sampled Viagra soup, which contained the medulla, feet, brain and testicles of a bull. In Brazil I fished for and ate piranha from the Rio Negro, and while in Belize I tantalized my taste buds with live termites straight from the mound. But it wasn’t until I visited Hanoi, Vietnam, that I discovered the true Mecca of bizarre food.

Because there was so much bizarre food to be found in Hanoi, I am breaking this experience up into three parts. Let’s start with a little poultry.

Balut, anyone?

Balut

Balut, or duck embryo, is a common street food in Vietnam. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Balut, in short, is a fertilized duck egg. It is considered to be a delicacy in many countries, including Vietnam. The fertilized eggs are removed from the nests and incubated for 14 to 19 days. As the embryo matures inside the egg, its beak hardens and feathers begin to develop. The longer the egg has been incubated, the more feathers it will have and the harder its beak and bones will be. But even at the early end of the scale, you can easily see that it is a bird. Its eyes, beak, wings, body and feet are quite distinguishable.

Balut

The liquid from the balut tastes like chicken broth. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Even though the egg is boiled prior to eating, I have to admit that it looks pretty daunting. In Vietnam they season the embryo with a little salt, some fresh pungent herbs, finely sliced ginger and a squeeze of lime juice. (I have sampled balut previously in a Filipino restaurant in Manhattan, and they provided salt, vinegar and hot peppers for garnish.)

balut

It is easy to distinguish the embryo is that of a bird. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

To eat the balut, you first peel off one end of the shell and then drink the juice. As strange as that sounds, it tastes really good – not surprisingly, just like chicken broth! Then you peel the rest of the shell off and eat the embryo. Because the cooked yolk will still be attached to the embryo, the resulting taste is very similar to a boiled egg. Yes, the beak and bones are a little crunchy and the feathers can be a nuisance, but all in all it’s a very tasty bite.

Balut

Balut can be found from street food vendors in Vietnam. Image credit: Cherri Megasko

Generally speaking, balut is not served at restaurants in Hanoi, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for street venders who offer them up from their carts.

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36 thoughts on “Adventure Eating in Hanoi, Vietnam – Part I, Balut

  1. Elizabeth

    You are so brave! I don’t think I could try all those crazy foods! Thanks for writing about it though so I’d know what to expect if I ever encounter it along my own travels! I hope to go to Vietnam in 2015. 🙂

  2. Leann

    I don’t think I could eat one, I might taste the broth and maybe cut off a bite but that would be as far as I think I would be able to take it.

  3. Kathy

    I honestly don’t think I’d be able to eat that. You’re very brave for being able to try it. I know I’d never be able to. If something doesn’t look good to me I’ll never be able to get the courage to try it.

  4. Chrystal @ YUM eating

    I have seen and heard so many stories during my life about balut. I just don’t know if I can do it. I have a hard enough time eating the meat that I do eat. I think seeing it and then the feathers and the crunch would bother me quite a bit. But I think its neat that others can sample food in other regions of the world.

  5. R U S S

    Balut is pretty popular here in the Philippines. I have tried it. In fact, I used to eat it but I had a really bad experience it and I never got back to appreciating it. There was this one time that I felt the beak and little feathers ( I think ) of the “little duck”. It felt gross and I have not eaten balut ever since that incident. We also have Penoy here in the Philippines – this looks more normal, similar to a boiled egg.

  6. Myrabev

    ok i am sorry but i think i just threw up on some of these pictures lol you are one brave person and kuddos to you because i know i couldnt even imagine trying

  7. Catherine S

    I have seen a few people on TV shows eat Balut. I don’t think I could eat it. I wouldn’t be able to get past the feathers and stuff.

  8. Samantha Angell

    Well, unfortunately I made the mistake of sitting down to lunch and reading this post…I am not an adventurous eater at all, so this is not my style. My husband would likely try it though!

  9. Lynndee

    Oh my! Balut is a Filipino delicacy too and now you make me crave for one. It has been more than four years now since the last time I had balut. 🙁

  10. Eileen

    I have always wanted to visit Vietnam. I don’t think I could eat food that still resembles and animal but I would love to try some of the other dishes!

  11. Fi Ní Neachtáin

    Oh my God, you’re brave! I’m such a picky eater and quite squeamish so I could never try any of those foods.

  12. Rosey

    My oldest has tried some pretty unusual dishes. I think duck feet were on the table once at a round table restaurant, that he took us to. He was the only one who tried it. 😉

  13. courtney

    Omg…I have never heard of this… I love duck… But honestly I could never eat a duck embryo… Omg I can’t believe people eat this lol

  14. Michelle Hwee

    I have actually heard of a lot of this stuff and my had actually tried it, we’re in a very diverse Asian neighborhood in NYC. Thanks for sharing this to others though.

  15. lauriel

    I’m with you on eating adventurous eating!!! (I love food, and there’s very little that I don’t like. I think natto is the only thing I’ve had thus far (including various animal brains, eyes, and insects) that I just couldn’t take…

    I found it interesting to hear the distinction between Filipino and Vietnamese balut. I had only heard of Filipino balut before… the Vietnamese way of serving it with lime sounds delicious… they’re great at balancing fresh, piquant flavors. 🙂

    xo,
    lauriel

  16. Lisa Rios

    I have never tried this kind of crazy food before & I don’t think I will succeed eating this. You are really brave enough to give a try 🙂

  17. Grace | A Shutterbug's Lair

    I never thought that BALUT is also famous in Vietnam. 🙂 NIce to know.

    I am not a Balut fan.. Never had eaten (seriously) a whole balut yet, the mere thought of it being feathery is such an ewwww thing for me.. I dreaded eating such. 🙂

    Though I admire those who does.. Ironically, all the members of my family (except my little girls) are balut lovers!

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