WTF Foods: Fetal Chicken Egg....Off Taobao
Taobao is like one of those bird’s nest caves from Planet Earth: where you can find the world’s hautest items alongside mountains of “bat guano"....figuratively speaking. For every ‘bargain buy Gucci bag” there's a vibrating dildo saddle or a DIY abortion kit. Speaking of abortions, today we decided to tuck into “Tabao balut.”
Watch our taste test here:
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For the laymen, balut (as it’s called in the Philippines, ‘Maodan’ in China) is embryonic duck or chicken egg that’s incubated for 14 to 21 days, boiled or steamed, then scarfed directly from the shell. It’s been featured on just about every exotic foods show from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations to Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. By all accounts, it’s pretty gnarly tasting. So why not order a specimen of unknown provenance off the world’s largest online bizarre, right?
We went with these guys from Jiangsu (above), which if user reviews are to be believed, are fairly reputable....or as reputable as such purveyors get. The balut arrived at the office in the projected three days. And they even came in a respectable-looking box like chocolates! So far so good.
Then we touched them. They were warm. And not “right out of the chicken” warm. But “thawed from that Cultural Revolution-era chicken cache that went viral several years back and then driven cross-province in 42-degree heat until the eggs had putrified into capsules of hermetically-sealed hepatitis hotpot” warm.
They were also impossible to open due to their plastic wrap; which seemed less geared at preserving the contents than it was at keeping people out like a biohazard bag. After cutting the packages open with scissors, it was finally ready to eat. We cracked the balut's shell like boiled eggs, and hot, reeking amniotic fluid spurted out on the table, unveiling a very veiny-looking egg with a nebulous brown shape inside. It looked like something you’d find rooting around in a dumpster outside a Planned Parenthood. Or a gift the spindly protagonist of The Nightmare Before Christmas would’ve given the kiddies had he commandeered Easter instead of Xmas.
Fortunately, the taste didn’t follow suit. The egg white was a bit more resilient than that of their boiled counterpart — like regular egg that pumped iron for a year — and there were some stray feathers…..but the actual embryo itself evoked chicken gizzard. My colleague Dan Entwistle analogized it to the brain of a Cantonese roast pigeon. The only problematic bit was this hard white nubbet at the bottom of each egg (below) that felt like crunching down on a moon rock. Immediately after biting into it, Entwistle hurled into a nearby garbage can.
If you’re looking for embryonic duck egg in its pure, unadulterated form, stay as far way from this ornithological aberration as humanly possible. But if you just want strike it off your bucket list, or stuff the Christmas stocking of a relative you dislike or perhaps pull a sadistic prank on your hapless colleagues at CityWeekend (stay tuned, Shexpats), this is the item for you.