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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 'other' eggs

[Warning:  Do not read this post over breakfast.  You've been warned.]

Yesterday's discussion of the perfect hard-boiled egg led to a comment from my friend Jaime about her discovery of 100 year old eggs (more commonly called Century Eggs) while on a trip to San Francisco's china town.

According to Wikipedia, Century Eggs are a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. The yolk of the egg is concentrically variegated in pale and dark green colors while the egg white is dark brown and transparent, like cola. The yolk is creamy with a strong aroma and an almost cheese-like flavor. The egg white has a gelatinous texture similar to cooked egg white, but has very little taste. *

      Century egg sliced open

That comment got me thinking.  Had I ever shared my recollections of another egg-based 'treat' I discovered in the Philippines?  A quick search of my archives revealed this glaring oversight which I intend to set right, here and now.

While serving in the US Navy, I visited the Philippines many times.  In fact, the single most heavily trafficked/linked/tracked/commented-upon/republished/plagiarized post in the history of treppenwitz was based on one of my visits to what we fondly called PI (short for Philippine Islands).

In addition to some of the, ahem, more adult distractions available to the weary sailors on liberty there back in the late 70s/early 80s, the Philippines had many other memorable attractions... not the least of which was a lively street-vendor trade in every imaginable sort of food and drink.

You could get fresh fruit... cold drinks... shaved ice... roasted skewered meat (we called it 'monkey meat' but it could have been just about anything) and a delicacy (to some, I suppose) called Balut.

Wikipedia describes Balut as follows:

"A fertilized duck egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. They are considered delicacies of Asia and especially the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut are mostly sold by street vendors at night in the regions where they are available. They are often served with beer."

So you see, whereas the Century Egg is just a rotten egg that has been wrapped in a noxious combination of mud, chemicals & minerals and aged for a few months... Balut is a fertilized egg that has undergone a similar process.  So instead of simply suggesting death and decay... Balut allows you crack open the shell and be confronted by death itself! 


Neat, huh?

In all seriousness, Balut may be considered a delicacy in the Philippines, but to the sailors and marines wandering around Olongopo, it was something one ate on a drunken dare.  Nothing more... nothing less.

The Wikipedia site clearly alludes to this in the last sentence I quoted above that points out that Balut is "often served with beer".  Uh huh... copious amounts of beer.

The truth is, I only came across Balut a few times... usually after we'd been out hoisting a San Miguel beer or two twelve to someone's birthday or similar celebratory occasion.  After we had moved on from beer to Mojo... and from there to stupid bar bets**, someone would invariably say, "Hey... let's see who can eat the most Balut!"  The literal translation of this drunken statement (usually expelled along with a liberal quantity of saliva sounding like "heylesseewhokeneetthumostbaloot") is:

"Gee fellows, an amusing idea just occurred to me.  Why don't we find a Balut vendor... purchase a few of these plucky little treats... and see who can go the longest between actually consuming one and vomiting."

I have to admit that I played the kosher card shamelessly whenever one of these challenges was leveled.. and as a result, ended up serving as the officiating judge for the event rather than as a participant.  And for the record, I never once saw anyone last longer than 45 seconds.

See, you never know where a comment thread will take us.  The lesson we learn from this is 'Your host has had a long and colorful life and is not afraid to free-associate at 5:30 AM... so be careful what you write in the comments board'.   

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

* Source (including photos)

**  The best bar bet I ever witnessed was when a shipmate of mine used to walk up to drunken strangers and say, "I'll bet you twenty bucks I have your name tattooed inside my lip".  Eight out of ten times the drunk would slap a wrinkled twenty on the bar and look on in disbelief as my shipmate pulled down his lower lip to reveal the clearly tattooed words "YOUR NAME".

Posted by David Bogner on September 18, 2007 | Permalink


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Wow. Your enterprising shipmate must have made the cost of that tattoo many times over.

I'd love to try one of your boiled eggs, but I'll pass on the century and the balut.

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 18, 2007 1:20:21 PM

*stares at the glass of diet Pepsi...*

Mr. Bourdain already spoiled my enthusiasm for Asian noodle soup when he featured hot vit ion on No Reservations. I wasn't able to eat a simple vegetarian noodle soup after seeing that particular episode.

Posted by: Account Deleted | Sep 18, 2007 1:57:01 PM


Posted by: zahava | Sep 18, 2007 2:01:18 PM

As always, Meital was thrilled to see her picture linked for posterity on Treppenwitz. I hope it will not count against her when some college admissions counselor google's her name. Shana Tova to the Bogners!

Posted by: Alan | Sep 18, 2007 2:16:56 PM

Uhhh, thanks, Trep. You've just provided the perfect antidote for holiday overeating (re your post from a few days ago). At the point that my wife usually says, "Psachya, don't you think you've eaten enough?", I'll just have her whip out your Balut picture. That should do the trick. Now, if you'll kindly excuse me...

[[runs desparately to bathroom, retching]]

Posted by: psachya | Sep 18, 2007 2:20:15 PM

I don't understand why it's not kosher. . .

Posted by: mother in israel | Sep 18, 2007 2:24:58 PM

I'm actually quite curious abou the whole "century egg" thing, and wouldn't mind trying one. I'm just curious how someone first decided to make one, though. My guess is that someone discovered a preserved egg in their fireplace and dared his buddy (over copious quantities of alcohol, no doubt) to eat it.

Since you decided to gross me out just a wee bit about a side point in your blog, allow me to return the favor Re: your story about your shipmate's tattoo.

When I was studying forensic science, my professor (a former medical examiner) showed us slides of identifying marks, scars, and tattoos on bodies. One of the tattoos that he pointed out was the words "your name" on a somewhat more sensitive area of the male anatomy than the lower lip. Apparently, the gentleman in question pulled the same trick in bars.

To quote our esteemed host: no, don't thank me; I'm a giver.

Posted by: efrex | Sep 18, 2007 3:01:19 PM

Rahel... You know where I live. I hope you aren't standing on ceremony. :-)

a. ... Oh c'mon, a walk past the typical rural German traif butcher shop has more potential for gagging than anything I showed you today. :-)

zahava... My work here is done. ;-)

Alan... You have no idea how many times that image has been accessed since it originally appeared. Apparently a lot of people are enjoying mojo thanks to your daughter. :-)

psachya... If that was all you were looking for I could have sent you to one of the more disturbing shock sites on the web. :-)

mother in Israel... If finding a blood spot in an egg is enough to make it problematic, I'm guessing that a fully developed duck embryo might prove a bigger kashrut hurdle. :-)

efrex... Ouch. Nobody likes a show-off. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 18, 2007 3:20:19 PM

Eating balut was actually one of the challenges on Fear Factor. I'm not proud of knowing that.

Posted by: Tanya | Sep 18, 2007 3:50:42 PM

How many times did your shipmate get into fights. I can see that bet as being the source of a little discontent.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 18, 2007 3:52:35 PM

Oh that "kosher card" sure does come in handy sometimes. :)

And BTW - the 1000 year old eggs are YUMMY. But I don't think I've had one in years since we started keeping kosher!

Posted by: orieyenta | Sep 18, 2007 4:03:47 PM

I always liked what P. J. O'Rourke had to say about Balut in his book Holidays in Hell:

"[It] looks like an anti-abortion movie produced by the Duckburg branch of the Right-To-Life organization."

I'll take gefilte fish instead. Even with the Fish Jelly Sauce.

Posted by: Elisson | Sep 18, 2007 5:40:37 PM

Ditto what Zahava said! Blech-tooey!

Posted by: val | Sep 18, 2007 7:07:26 PM


Posted by: Jaime | Sep 18, 2007 9:03:06 PM


Posted by: mata hari | Sep 18, 2007 9:23:28 PM

I've had both.

century eggs are delicious - with sliced pink treifus gamur and slivered ginger.

Balut, on the other hand... never been able to keep it in my mouth long enough to taste. I wasn't drinking beer at the time either (never really did like San Miguel beer).

Durian more than makes up for it. My hosts in Cagayan De Oro fed me durian for breakfast, without telling me of several things.

1. You will reek of durian, especially on a hot day, and especially if you are white.
2. Chinese Phillippinos do not want to be near smelly white people.
3. If you're flying back to Manila that afternoon, you will be surrounded be Chinese Phillippino business men. And if you have eaten durian, you will be their worst nightmare.

That last point actually worked in my favour. Even though the flight was fully booked when we left Cag, by the time we landed in Manila, there were fifteen empty seats around me.

Maybe they jumped.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Sep 18, 2007 11:36:31 PM

oooooog, this is so disgusting.

Somehow, I think you are secretly pleased, David, that you are able to evoke such a wide range of, um, emotions from your readers.

Posted by: The Other Sarah B | Sep 19, 2007 9:58:23 AM

I'm going to hurl. I'm going to puke. I'm going to shout at my shoes. I'm going to do the Technicolor yawn. I'm going to call Ralph on the big white porcelain phone.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Sep 19, 2007 3:14:50 PM

I read your and Elisson's post at work yesterday and conversation ensued. Queried a friend of mine, who knows I am mostly non-negotiable when it comes to kashrus, "You're being held up at gunpoint, and you will die unless you choose between Balut, and Pigs' Feet. What do you choose?"

Having contemplated this question for a few hours, and well aware of the violation of pikuah nefesh my decision would cause, I'm still not sure I'd not rather go with the bullet in the brain.

Posted by: Erica | Sep 19, 2007 3:31:03 PM

a. ... Oh c'mon, a walk past the typical rural German traif butcher shop has more potential for gagging than anything I showed you today.

If that is to mean they still exhibit pig heads or claws, then no ... that's the kind of stuff you'll find at the pet food markets (and these aisles are a no-go area for the same reason). This country is thriving at an advanced stage of consume behaviour (after the Maslow model). ;)

But I got to the point of your post last evening, and yes, I appreciate your initiative to help us getting through the tzom. ;)

Posted by: a. | Sep 19, 2007 4:16:05 PM

I think you need to try the Swedish delicacy called "Sour Herring". It's fermented herring. They put the can in the sun and when it's nice and bloated, it's 'ready'. On my first trip to Sweden with my husband, a special feast of this delicacy was prepared in my honor. I sat outside the boathouse where they were all waiting and was brought to tears by the aroma which is something akin to rotting flesh meets dirty jocky shorts, with a sort of fishy, stanky, hockey glove stench to finish it off.

The smell is so bad that when we are out in the boat cruising around the island where we vacation, you can tell when someone inland has cracked open a can.

Posted by: Alice | Sep 19, 2007 9:24:14 PM

I forgot to mention that you will belch this fishy stench for a few days afterwards. Romantic, no?

Posted by: Alice | Sep 19, 2007 9:25:34 PM

Alice, what you are describing is surstroming. In the olden days, they would make it in barrels. And when the top blew off the barrel they knew it was ready.

It is probably illegal in several states plus the planet Mars. Or in any case, it should be.

What does it taste like?

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Sep 19, 2007 10:58:03 PM

The island where my husband's family fished for hundreds of years in the Baltic is famous for the stuff. The taste is something like pickled herring. It's much more mild than the smell. But the smell is so strong, you can taste the smell too.

My husband will gleefully chow on it. Then again I showed him the above photos and he said 'Yummy!' He has also been known to consume fried cow teats, a tasty Mexican treat.

Posted by: Alice | Sep 19, 2007 11:05:43 PM

My brother bought a durian once as a Rosh Hashana fruit. "It looked interesting," he said. "By the way, the guy in the store said we should cut it open outside. I wonder why?" Well - imagine 75 skunks getting into a free-for-all on your front stoop. I'm still surprised that our neighbors didn't call the cops. And no - I have no clue what it tastes like. Nor do I have any desire to find out.

Posted by: psachya | Sep 20, 2007 3:07:08 AM

gmar hatima tova trepp...a sweet new year to you and everyone you love...stay safe...love, marallyn

Posted by: marallyn | Sep 20, 2007 8:51:10 AM

Tanya... At least you didn't hear about it on American Idol. :-)

Jack... He was actually a recovering alcoholic, and an acomplished martial arts (I forget which one) practitioner. I remember once watching him easily fend off a drunks wild punches with soft, defensive blocks.

orieyenta... I was hopeing you'd weigh in given your background. That doesn't mean I'm ever going to try them, mind you. :-)

Elisson... I love gefilte fish... mostly because I've never watched it being made. :-)

val... You always take her side. :-)

Jaime... You started it!

mata hari... Very nice. Another country heard from. :-)

Back of the Hill... Why am I not surprised you'd have a great story to share? :-)

The Other Sarah B... No secret about it. :-)

Doctor Bean... You forgot: 'paint a sidewalk asterisk' and 'bake an asphalt pizza'. :-)

Erica ... Yeah, that's pretty much the way I feel. :-)

a. ... It's a gift, really. Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Alice... 'need' might be too strong a word. I looked up Surströmming and was thoroughly grossed out. Well done :)

psachya... and wackiness ensued. :-)

marallyn... Thank you. Gmar Chatima Tova.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 20, 2007 12:20:47 PM

You know, I'm sort of notorious for liking to try weird/gross-sounding/looking food... But I think I'll pass on these two delicacies!

*fasting for three days instead of one*


Posted by: Irina | Sep 21, 2007 3:15:26 AM

Trepp, I went to the post on Mojo-you actually admit being at Jolos' Hmmm sure you wern't Gunner's or Boatswain's Mate??

Posted by: Old Fat Sailor | Oct 7, 2007 1:07:13 PM

you write: Balut is a fertilized egg that has undergone a similar process.

actually no, it is just hard boiled, it is not "wrapped in a noxious combination of mud, chemicals & minerals and aged for a few months...".

i had some in laos, they don't taste bad. they just look a bit strange... you just have to get used to them. just like eating cooked insects, or cooked dog meat.

Posted by: tristan | Sep 21, 2008 7:49:07 AM

I am a laowai living in China, I regularly eat century eggs. I am surprised at the fact you say they have no taste, they actually taste extremely creamy, far more than a regular yolk.

I wouldn't exactly simply say they are a rotten egg either. Rotten eggs have been exposed to bacteria and the atmosphere and rapidly "go off", stink foul and would no doubt result in a speedy trip to the hospital for antibiotics and maybe a stomach pump.

Century eggs are cured generally in plaster these days. There was also a rumour that they used horse urine in the process but this is a myth. The egg does not really go rotten in the general sense of the word and taste nothing like a rotten egg would.

I know they look a little, if not a lot, unpalatable and unappealing but once you taste one you will be hooked, believe me!!! The first time I saw them I barfed at the thought of eating something that looks the way these things do.

One evening after a large quantity of Chinese wine I decided to take the plunge and try them, I was amazed at just how delicious they are and now I cannot get enough.

The only downside to them is the fact that they are extremely high in cholesterol, much higher than a normal egg would be, and also the fact that they do contain a degree of lead, although the actual lead content is quite low.

For these two reasons, the Chinese tend to not stuff themselves silly with them, nor would I advise anyone else too. They tend to have a plate full at a special meal, like for example Chinese New Year or something like that, or when many relatives get together.

They are not the kind of dish that is eaten week in week out, we tend to eat them only on special occasions, although I wish I could eat more of them.

I'd advise anyone to give them a go, you will honestly be surprised at just how delicious they really are.

Posted by: Robbie | Aug 21, 2010 11:15:19 AM

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