Accidental Balut

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Since we were moving so fast on our South East Asia trip, my brother and I never really have the time to learn what the local dishes are called. But we do love street food.

Faced with an intelligible menu (or worse – no menu), what to do?

Eating on the streets of Phnom Penh
Dinner between Street 258 and 266, Phnom Penh

A popular street food scene in Phnom Penh is fried ‘stuff-on-a-skewer’. In the evening, students and workers alike order these by the basketful and eat them sitting on little stools by little tables on the sidewalk. The ‘stuff’ can be anything: meatballs, imitation crab, sausage, tofu, etc. They’re all bite-sized. You point to what you want, and they’ll fry it on the spot.

Perfect! No menu needed and let the finger do the talking!

I sent out my brother (or more like his finger) to choose. When our plate arrived, there was something a little off about the meatballs on it.

‘What’s that?’

‘I don’t know’ – my brother shrugged after taking a closer look. ‘I don’t think I ordered that’.

Balut in Cambodia

I got my head close and poked around with my chopstick trying to figure out the stuffing inside. Certain features became clear. Rather unfortunately. Features that resembled too much like… Oh geez! That was when I noticed there are some wet, black feathers stuck in my chopstick.


Now in an alternate universe, I’d squeal with delight, stuff the thing in my mouth, and say things like

‘Oh boy’ – crunch, crunch – ‘I’ve always wanted to eat a balut, a fertilized chicken egg with a fully-formed chicken embryo inside. What a local delicacy! What a treat!’

In this universe, that would never happen.

I’d jump off planes and bridges – but when it comes to adventurous eating, I’m a big chicken (no pun intended). I especially have a thing about eating whole animals… well, whole. No oysters or soft-shell crabs for me. Definitely no chick embryos that already have feathers on them.

So, in this universe, the only squealing I did was to ask my brother to get the balut pieces off the plate. And oh – can I get another pair of chopsticks, please?

There are certain things that still don’t sound good enough to eat – even deep fried.

So, if you’re in Phnom Penh – join the locals on their evening stuff-on-a-stick venture (the stretch in front of Pencil Supermarket between Street 258 and 266 seems to be popular) – just keep an eye out for these baluts. Of course, what you do after you spot them is up to you.

So I wonder – is ‘balut’ vegetarian?

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19 Replies to “Accidental Balut”

  1. No, no, no and NO! We've seen Balut in China and I think I'd sooner eat stinky tofu. I probably would have started crying if I'd poked one unknowingly like you did!

  2. I think I will try Balut when I go on my SE-Asia trip. I can understand that it put you off if you were totally unprepared for it! Balot is a dish that requires a bit of mental 'pep' beforehand 😉

  3. Nope! Never gonna eat that, ever. I saw a lot of people eating it, but I just can't. I like to think I'm an adventurous eater but I'm really not.

  4. We found balut at our local Asian grocery store, 99 cents so that totally means its fresh..also considering we are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a few beers with friends Adam, he did it…we all watched in horror….he didnt throw up! He thinks deep fried sounds slightly more appealing! He can't wait to try it in Asia when we are there on our RTW trip! 5 months until we leave!

  5. I tried balut in the Philippines. Once was enough for me. That was a long time ago, though. Last year, when I was in Phnom Penh, I was invited to a family dinner on my birthday. (Coincidentally, two family members had their birthdays on the same day as mine.) One of the dishes they served was this. To be polite, I decided to give balut a second chance. Surprise! It wasn't too bad, not that I would go out of my way to have it again.

    Have you tried this Cambodian delicacy…?

  6. I don't think it's vegetarian, lol.
    I had an accidental balut in Luang Prabang. The appearance looked like telor asin (salted duck egg, green). I missed telor asin so much, so I got one.

    Turned out it was a balut. Very young though, not the old feathery one. It was actually quite good, the yolk in my opinion is better than regular boiled egg. Since it was really young, I almost didn't realized that was a chick inside it. But you can see clearly there's a lot of blood vessels on the yolk.

    1. Not yet – but that's definitely on the radar when we find ourselves in that region. Have heard so many good things about it.

    1. After trying to convince my brother to eat the balut without success, we finally just left it behind on our plates – uneaten.

  7. I thought Balut was exclusive to The Philippines. Definitely it's also quite popular across the region. I had my first (and most probably last) Balut in Manila. I must say that it is by far the most bizarre food that I've ever tried.

  8. Most definitely NOT vegetarian at all!! Glad you found out what was on the inside before it got into your insides. Hope your travel home was safe and happy!! xo

  9. I ate Balut while in Shinaoukville, Cambodia. You can get them at varying stages of development but you have to know what to ask for to get the young ones that have very little "crunch".
    My experience was great, it tasted like… well, like boiled chicken. Very little crunch and I was later told that my experimentation was highly regarded by locals as most westerners won't even take a spoonful. It's supposed to give you increased powers of prowess and strength/fortitude. I haven't noticed that, but to have tried it was the best part. just try and you'll be surprised that most things you think will be terrible aren't quite so.

  10. Ugh, gross! I would have lost my appetite after having feathers stuck to my chopsticks, I think.

    It's good that you admit that you're not a very adventurous eater – neither am I! And I always feel like others judge me for it. Lol.

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