Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm no Anthony Bourdain

But I tried. 

Half-hatched eggs a.k.a. baby eggs a.k.a balut a.k.a. duck embryos are widely on offer here in Da Lat, the pleasant highland town in central Vietnam where my father and I arrived yesterday. 

At my request, our guide, Phung, took us to a small, homely restaurant at the entrance of which sat enormous trays of shelled sea (lake?) creatures and one steaming cauldron of eggs. Phung ordered. Three large, warm eggs, accompanied by saucers of  lime, chili-salt and herbs, appeared at our tiny plastic table. The proprietress neatly tapped open the shell of one egg with a spoon, exactly like my mother used to prepare a soft-boiled egg for toast-dipping.

I was told to sprinkle said egg with the chili salt, sip out the juices, then take a bite of the contents. Sort of like eating an oyster, with the sipping-eating order reversed. 

Sipping wasn't half-bad. The egg liquour tasted like a thin, savory soup.

Then  I shut my eyes and took a bite.
Not the best shot of this historic moment, but it will have to suffice.
The flavor of the egg? Quite nice. Like chicken with zesty spice.

The texture? Extremely challenging, clotted and clumpy. There were a lot of differentiated parts, and when I dared to look more closely, a lot of differentiated colors: gray, black, white, gold.
The concept? You don't need me to tell you that the concept, to a typical Westerner, is absolutely revolting and the egg, therefore, was inedible. 

In the middle of this whole escapade I realized it was probably rude to go into a restaurant, order the specialty of the house, take pictures of oneself choking down a tiny morsel, pay, and depart. I don't approve! But the proprietress seemed more amused than irritated. I bet she's seen this before.


  1. I know that you are so very busy, but want MORE, about everything. What did you have for breakfast? Dinner? Did your Dad try the egg---he looks amused so I suspect he did not. How are the hotels? Sights? Wanting to know all...

  2. WOW. I was surprised that this dish existed. There is a Baroque Spanish picaresque novel called Guzman de Alfarache. As was usually the case in such genre the heroe is most of the time starving and exposed to rather ghastly food. As you may have guessed he does indeed ends up being served a half hatched egg; the description still haunts me.

  3. Pretty much my hero. I'd want to have tried, but couldn't have come close.

  4. Am loving reading about your trip Tipsy, please, keep it coming.
    And I can't believe you've been stalking Novella too!

  5. The trip sounds great. Enjoying the posts.

  6. You are so brave. I would not have had the moxie to try it. The poop coffee I could wrap my mind around, but not balut.

  7. Speaking of birds, here's an update from the Tipsy Farm back in U.S. of A.
    By 8:45 p.m. Sunday, most of the chickens had, as usual, entered the chicken house of their own will. Not unusually, Alberta Einstein, the oddest-looking and most socially maladjusted chicken, was not in the house.
    Forty-five minutes later, she still wasn't in the house, and I was still looking for her, armed with a flashlight.
    Somewhere, I figured, Alberta was in a little ball, having decided to sleep out in the open, because she has a death wish.
    At 10 p.m. I had just about given up, but decided to look once more where I figured she must be, if she hadn't been swallowed whole by Peter's Wolf: somewhere in the overgrown garden.
    I paced around, I listened, I thought I heard a noise. Then, I had an inspiration, went to get a hose, and started jetting water into the overgrowth. Still, nothing.
    Then, moments later, as I stood there losing hope, the flashlight's light caught a bit of black-feathered something in with the tomatoes. There she was, intact and a bit dim-witted, but our special bird.
    -- And that's your report from the chicken caretaker.

  8. Aw, Alberta. What is WRONG with that girl?
    Thank-you for taking such good care of our baby.

  9. Thanks for the pictures and the description of your trip. I am new to your blog, but I got so excited when I read that you were heading to VN. My husband and I have three children adopted from VN. We have travelled there twice and are actually preparing to live there for a year. Your posts are helping to feed my anticipation and excitement. Thanks!

  10. Love that photo of you! You are one brave soul...

  11. You may be no Anthony Bourdain but you were clearly channeling Novella Carpenter! I just read the scene in Farm City where she tries choking down the same delicacy with the same results.
    And now I need to go look at the other comments to see how Alberta's adventures go.

  12. Hats off to you! the most incredibly brave eater i have ever known!

  13. Yeah, I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater, but that half-hatched egg thing sounds reeeaaally disgusting .

    I'd try the weasel-poop coffee though. Can you imagine if that caught on in foodie circles in the US? "Waiter, I'm sending this coffee back. It clearly hasn't been through the digestive tract of a weasel."

  14. Hi Jennifer,
    Van here - your guide of the Street food Dinner in Saigon.
    Love to hear that you tried the half-hatched egg. You are very brave :)