The politics of balut

By Perry Diaz

Balut-eater.2“Balut” is a popular delicacy in many Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. In particular, the Philippines is arguably one country where her people not only love balut, they live it! Call it balut mentality or balut syndrome, eating balut is healthy for the body and mind… and, as many Filipino men would attest, it’s aphrodisiac! The male balut lovers call them “macho food” because they’re believed to boost virility and libido. Yes, balut are indeed the Philippines’ “much loved delicacy.”

With all the good things that balut lovers get from eating those fertilized duck eggs – thank God, they’re cooked! — it is no wonder that many Pinoys would eat balut every night. And for those who have extra money to spend, eating half a dozen balut — or more – would make them stronger and ready for action! Indeed, many believe that balut is radioactive, which may be the source of the eater’s strength and stamina.

But before you try eating balut, you need to know a little about it. Pronounced bah-loot, it’s produced by fertilizing duck eggs under the sun and then storing in baskets to keep them warm. After nine days, the eggs are held to a light to see the outline of the embryo inside. About eight days later, the fertilized eggs – the balut — are ready to be cooked just like cooking hard-boiled chicken eggs.

The vendors then put the cooked balut in buckets of sand to retain the warmth. They go around neighborhoods at sundown and shout “bah looot… bah looot…” They’re sold with small packets of salt and they’re eaten best while still warm.

Kinds of balut

There are three kinds of balut, two of which are okay — the fertilized balut and the unfertilized penoy. The ideal fertilized balut is 17 days old. It is called “balot sa puti” (“wrapped in white”). After 18 days, it becomes recognizable, complete with a beak, head, claws, body, and bones. However, after a few more days it becomes too old and you’d see feathers on the chick, which many people don’t like eating.

On the other hand, if after nine to 12 days old the chick has remained unfertilized, it is called penoy and it looks, smells, and tastes just like a regular hard-boiled chicken egg, albeit a little more expensive.

But the third kind is very bad. It’s the undeveloped duck egg called “abnoy” or “bugok,” which means, rotten. When you crack a balut and it smells awful, don’t eat it!

Believe it or not

 But in Pateros, Rizal where the production of balut is the town’s main industry, the people have a way of putting an abnoy to good use. Are you ready for this? They use abnoy to make “bibingkang abnoy.” And just like the smelly abnoy where it’s made from, bibingkang abnoy smells and tastes awful. It’s cooked like a fried egg torta and dipped in spicy vinegar. But take it with a grain of salt when you hear abnoy lovers say, “It smells like hell but tastes like heaven!”

However, if you’re adventurous enough (this is a challenge to CNN’s Anthony Bourdain of the “Parts Unknown” series) and wouldn’t want to miss the experience of eating bibingkang abnoy, here’s some suggestions to follow: “Don’t breath, cover your nose, grab a small slice of the bibingka, dip it in vinegar to enhance its taste, bite it, don’t puke, feel the exotic taste.” [Source:]

How to eat balut

Balut-how-to-eat.11. Crack a small hole on the rounded part of the shell.

2. Chip away pieces of the shell until the hole is the size of a bottle cap. Pierce the membrane and suck the broth-like liquid (albumen of the duck fetus).

3. Make the opening bigger. Sprinkle the inside with “rough sea salt,” which is provided by the balut vendor.

4. Enlarge the opening so you can bite off the yolk (yellow part).

Balut-and-salt5. Eat the chick. The hardened white lump is edible but most people don’t eat it.

Balut syndrome

Some people are like balut. While they might love balut for any perceived benefits, some people live their lives like balut, especially the politicians. And just like the three kinds of balut (balut, penoy, and abnoy), politicians are categorized in the same manner. The penoy politician is someone who is new in politics: a novice or a rookie. Like a penoy, they’re cooked but unfertilized. They’re new in the political game so they haven’t been exposed to corruption yet. But after being exposed to corruption or “fertilized,” the penoy politician transforms into a balut politician – corrupt and greedy. However, just like a duck egg that didn’t develop properly, that politician might turn out to be an abnoy – rotten to the core!

But regardless of whether these politicians are penoy, balut or abnoy, the people keep on electing them from the president down to the barangay captains. It’s a phenomenon particularly in Philippine politics where people look up to their politicians as their benefactors. A lot of times politicians are asked to be the godfather (ninong) of people getting married or baptized. And when someone dies, the politicians are there to give financial aid to the bereaved. Indeed, it is not uncommon for politicians to dole out or give small amounts of money to their constituents in time of need. And for these acts of charity from their benefactors (padrinos), the constituents would be forever grateful and will vote for them come election time, which begs the question: Where does the politicians’ “charity fund” come from?

The beneficiaries (constituents) know where the “charity fund” originated. They come from the padrinos’ ill-gotten wealth that was generated through corruption. In order to keep the flow of “dirty money” coming in, the politicians use bribes and kickbacks to grease corrupt government officials and functionaries. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps the politicians in power and, sadly, the people in perpetual bondage. Yep, the politicians are just like bibingkang abnoy: Their corrupt practices smell like hell, but their dirty money tastes like heaven. That in essence is the politics of balut.


3 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Jose Raoul C Dizon says:

    …And like balut, politicians are VERY expensive. For the most part uselessly, I may add. A recently retired Congressional employee told me, “year after year, after spending their huge appropriations, the Congressmen amazingly accomplish nothing!”

    Maybe Duterte has a point in wanting to abolish Congress if he’s elected. The country can employ Congressional appropriations to better uses. It’s a good thing Duterte is quite open with his plans. For, if voted into office, then he has a mandate to accomplish what he has promised.

    The whole idea of people’s representatives in Congress is an outdated notion that was justified by the virtual absence of communications in the founding horse-and-buggy days of the US. The central government needed select individuals to report the needs of the people in different far-flung parts of the country.

    Parenthetically, funds were prudentially kept in trust for these representatives for when they appeared to apprise the government of their constituents’ needs. The representatives brought back the money with them when they returned. This was the beginning of pork barrel – as some kind of food in waiting for the time it was needed.

    The growth of communications and fast travel has rendered this way of feeling the pulse of the people (“wait till we hear of the representative from state X”) archaic. Now the sentiments of the people can be immediately discerned from digital messages, coupled with quick visits to validate what is reported in both printed and social media.

    The time has come when Congress can now be substituted by a group of advisers who may be culled from democratically elected governors of every province. Their role is to advise the president of the developmental needs of their respective territories.

    Their work will be advisory, but if the President agrees with them, then a law is crafted that is enacted by both of them (the advisors and the President). In difficult cases where the group and the president differ, the latter may still issue orders that take precedence over the laws enacted by both of them.

  2. Roy says:

    Eating too much balut produced bad cholesterol that clogged arteries. Body attack, produced massive heart attack. Head affected produced stroked.

  3. Constantino Gamolo says:

    Hi there Perry,
    Thank you very much for a piece about “balut”.I tried balut once but I could not bear eating it because of the obvious. What an interesting comparison between balut and politicians. Yes, indeed it’s true.
    This is a thing where people does not care very much (may be) to read but I enjoyed reading it. Thanks again

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