I wasn’t going to write about this adventure or share the video because it doesn’t exactly show me at my best. I thought about it for a while and realized I was being weak. Life is short and then you die. That’s it. If someone gets a laugh out of my story then it was worth publishing.
As a warning, balut is not a very pleasant-looking piece of food. If you’re easily sickened by graphic photos, please stop reading and select another article.
How the Night Got Started
A couple of years ago, I was hanging out with some locals down in General Santos City on the Island of Mindanao. The night started out innocently enough. We got our hands on a few cold San Miguel Pale Pilsens and the karaoke began. That’s usually how things progress in the Philippines.
The Pool Hall and the Balut Salesman
Someone suggested we head over to a pool hall and check out the scene. We got there and I think everyone was a bit surprised to see a foreign guy in the group. I was introduced to the crowd and handed a beer.
We were shooting pool, laughing, and having a good time when…
Baaaaa-lut! Baaaaa-lut! Baaaaa-lut!
If you hear those words from a guy on a bicycle carrying a cylindrical cooler, try your best to ignore him. Create a cover story that you’ve tried balut before and it just wasn’t your cup of tea. Try to play it off and keep busy doing what you’re doing. Filipinos love it when they can talk a foreigner into eating balut. It’s pure entertainment for them.
Eating Balut – How It Went Down
The guy on the bicycle brought the tell-tale blue cooler into the pool hall and began pulling out the eggs.
My buddy started getting a couple ready for us. It caught everyone’s curiosity. All eyes were on me it seemed.
There’s no way I’m getting out of this one.
When you get put on the spot in other cultures, especially when it comes to trying their local cuisine, you can’t back out. It’s not polite. If you’ve gotten yourself that far into the situation, just go along for the ride. You will probably survive the experience. The worst that can happen is that you get a case of the runs for a few days. Hey, I’m not saying to be stupid or reckless with your health. What I’m saying is that if the locals are eating something, you can eat it, too. We’re all human.
The balut-eating adventure warranted a video so I handed the camera off to a lovely Filipina to do the filming.
My buddy helped me crack open the shell of the balut. I was able to see inside.
Oh, shit… There’s a beak… and I see feathers.
I’m not a fan of uncooked or undercooked food. As long as something is charbroiled to where I know all the germs are basically eliminated, I can eat it. I ate barbecued rat in Northeast Thailand with little worry because it was cooked well done. I can’t stand sushi or anything raw. One time at a strip club in Atlanta, I ate a raw seahorse from a platter served in the VIP room. The rat and seahorse memories were nothing compared to the emotions going through my mind as I stared at the balut egg.
My friend explained that I needed to suck the juice first. Ok, no problem. Fitting for the moment, Kenny Rogers’ song Coward of the County was playing in the background. It was time to man up and drink the duck broth.
I sucked out the juice and surprisingly, it wasn’t bad at all. I was drunk as Cooter Brown so nothing really mattered anyway. After some salt and San Miguel, I took my first bite. I expected it to taste like warm death.
If I had not seen the inside of the egg, I would have merely thought it was a very rich hard-boiled chicken egg. I kept telling my buddy to put more salt because it was just a crazy way to fool my mind into moving forward. The salt did make it taste better, though. The hard part was the last bite. When my friend pulled off the remainder of the shell, it appeared as if the wings expanded. It was about to fly away. I didn’t care. I knew it was the last bite, so let’s go. With that, I was through my first and last experience of eating balut in the Philippines.
I am proud of myself. Many Western tourists end up losing their lunch after sucking the juice.
You know, the folks I had the pleasure of hanging out with were really nice to me. I will never forget that night. If any of you are reading this, I want to say thanks for the hospitality and the adventure. You showed me the local scene and put up with my drunkenness all night. I know that’s a chore.
Walang Katulad basically means unique. Walang translates to nothing and katulad translates to like or the same. At the end of the video, my buddy recited those words. I’ve used that phrase a thousand times since that night. It’s funny because at one point Jollibee was using that slogan in their advertising. Not sure if they ripped off the slogan from my friend or if it was the other way around. Either way, eating balut is definitely Walang Katulad—a unique experience. There’s nothing like it.
Advice on Eating Balut?
I’ll give you my honest advice. If you find yourself in the Philippines and the balut man pulls up on his bicycle, go ahead and buy one. Ask him to demonstrate for you how balut is eaten. Let him eat it right there in front of you. It will probably deter you from going any further but at least you are experiencing something new in the local culture. You’ll get educated about balut and the salesman has a free snack. If watching the guy doesn’t make you sick, then try one for yourself. Have a San Miguel and the salt handy. Make sure you take a video of the occasion.
Visit General Santos City in Mindanao – Yes, It’s Safe to Travel There
I hate travel advisories from governments, especially from my own. If a travel advisory is issued for a particular location, that tells me I want to go there. I’ve read so much bullshit over the years about how Mindanao and General Santos City is not safe for foreigners that it makes me sick. Stop living your life in fear because of what timid souls tell you from the confines of their cubicles.
I had a great time in General Santos City and the surrounding area. I was out at all hours of the night, drunk most of the time, and hanging with locals. I never once felt like I was in any danger or that the area was unsafe. It’s quiet, peaceful, and a hell of a lot safer than Manila. The people were friendly and showed me the utmost in hospitality.
You can stop by Manny Pacquiao’s gym near General Santos City and take some photos while you’re there.