Searching Out Vietnamese Comfort Food "Balut" in Japan
Hi, Aya Hosoi here.
When it comes to Vietnamese food, there are so many delightful dishes to choose from like pho, fresh spring rolls and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches).
Today I've chosen something a little more challenging—balut.
Balut is duck fetus boiled in the shell.
It's seen as a comfort food in Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia.
In Japan, it's been mentioned quite a bit lately—manga fans might also have heard of it from the manga Oishinbo.
During my Vietnam trip, there were street vendors set up by the side of the road with pots of boiling balut eggs out in front, with each egg selling for about 17 to 26 cents U.S. a pop.
For every purchase, you also got a side of lime, salt and water pepper leaves, too.
They're served to you piping hot because they're fished right out of the pot upon purchase.
On the inside is a sort of soupy juice though, so be careful when you start peeling off that shell.
Once you’ve peeled to about where it is in the photo, start slurping out the soup!
And good egg soup it is, too... Or is that duck soup?
The inside looks like this. Instead of egg white and egg yolk, you get a little duckling fetus.
Now for a big bite seasoned with salt and lime. (If you're already freaking out at this point, imagining that you're downing a shot of tequila might help.) It might look gross but the taste is somewhere between egg and chicken meat. And it's really good.
The duck meat itself is really juicy with plenty of "soup." You can even make out the little duck bill and feet and it has this al dente and sometimes even crunchy feel. So many flavors and textures all in one...
Balut is high in nutrition, too. Apparently, pregnant women in Vietnam like eating these as way to stock up on nutrients and vitamins.
A tiny life suspended inside a single, tiny egg. I think that being able to see and experience something like this firsthand is something you could only really probably have with balut.
Try it once and you'll be hooked! The same thing happened to me... But now that I'm back in Japan, I have to say that I've never actually seen a restaurant here that serves balut. (And there are so many Vietnamese restaurants in Japan, too...)
I know, I know. "It might taste good but the visuals are just... ugh!" Am I right?
But hear me out—Balut is so good that when I returned from my Vietnam trip I thought about it every day. I even woke up with drool on my pillow from dreaming about balut at night!
One day—at long last—I got word that someone had spotted it at Ameyoko, a shopping street in Tokyo's Ueno area. It made perfect sense that they would have it here, too, seeing as Ameyoko is full of all kinds of interesting ethnic foods and products.
On the basement floor of the Ameyoko Center Building is an Asian grocery store section. Having only had it in Vietnam, where it's called hột vịt lộn, I was unfamiliar with the English word for it, "balut," which apparently comes from its name in Tagalog. But they are pretty much the same thing.
Apart from Ameyoko, you might also be able to find balut in Tokyo by trying out the Little Saigon in Kamata, Ota. Although in Japan you won't usually find balut being sold at Vietnamese restaurants, you should be able to find them at Vietnamese and Asian grocery stores if you look hard enough.
At one such store I went to, I asked the staff there if balut was selling well. The reply I got was, "Well, sometimes we get homesick Filipino students who buy them..." Uh-huh. I guess they don't sell that well!!
The ones I bought were slightly blue. They kinda reminded me of those expensive silkie, or "black chicken," eggs you sometimes see in up-market grocery stores...
They were sold cold from the freezer, so I guess we're probably supposed to warm them up before eating.
Peel off the shell and... this is one of those slightly developed types.
It looked at me!
When they're slightly developed like this, they'll often have little wings on them and from what I hear, these are quite popular according to Vietnamese tastes.
And I'm not gonna lie—the wings do kind of poke around in your mouth when you're eating them!
And that's not the half of it.
There's actually an even bigger hurdle to wrap your head around first.
You see, it kinda has this fishy smell—even stronger than the ones I tried in Vietnam.
I mean, that's probably to be expected having been shipped all the way from overseas but still, I certainly didn’t see this one coming!!
Alright, I'm going to level with you. I actually bought balut at this place before and you know what? That time they didn't smell this fishy and actually tasted really good, too. Maybe this time I got a bad batch?
To remedy the situation, I decided I'd try cooking it the same way we cook ankimo—monkfish liver–style!
Thanks to the scallions, momoji-oroshi (chillied daikon radish shavings) and ponzu sauce, the smell was nowhere near as strong once I got through with them!
Plus this way, the biggest problem of all—the visuals—was also covered up.
Truly two birds with one stone. Ahem.
Actually, a friend of mine who ate balut with me in Vietnam sent me the above photo without saying anything in particular but, come to think of it, it does kinda resemble monkfish liver, don't you think?
Next time I have people over for dinner, I'm going to serve them balut cooked monkfish liver–style, heh.
So there you have it: nutritious, delicious balut!!
I totally recommend you try it! The way it is, of course, for people who can deal with the whole fetus-in-your-mouth thing, or arranged monkfish liver–style if you think it needs a makeover to get past your gullet...
Author : Aya Hosoi
"Likes trying out rare foods. Watch as the number of her Twitter followers drastically decrease every time she eats a bug."
Blog: http://seiten4go.com/ (in Japanese)
Twitter: https://twitter.com/hosoi/ (in Japanese)