Tag Archives: Food

The best posts about food and exotic food photography will be included in this section.

Balut: would you eat Duck Embryo?

People really eat Duck Embryo??

They eat duck embryo called Balut in the Philippines, and it might be the only food I refused during my entire trip through Asia.

When I’m traveling, I always want to sample the local food, and I’ll try almost everything. What does that include? I’ve tried guinea pigs (cuy!) in Peru. I’ve eaten grasshoppers and scorpions in Thailand. I ate just about every organ or body party of a cow, duck, or chicken that you can think of in mainland China, including duck intestine, pig brain. Where do I draw the line?  The Philippines’ Balut egg – duck fetus. Duck embryo is not for me. I just couldn’t bring myself to try eating a Fetal Duck Egg.

What is Balut?

Balut egg is a fertilized duck embryo – the embryo is allowed to grow and mature for about 17 days until it is quite clearly a baby duck. That’s right. A baby duck, with all its baby duck parts stuffed into a shell with the yolk and egg white, now crisscrossed with blood vessels and feather-like growths. Yes, sometimes it is even has the beginnings of feathers. At this point Balut egg is soft-boiled and eaten whole.

Adventurous foods: Balut

Philippines' Balut egg - duck embryo is common. You can see the Duck Fetus - Visit50.com
Balut: ready to eat a duck embryo?

When I got to the Philippines, people were eating Balut as a snack on the streets, in the same way you can pick up hot dogs on the streets of NYC, except in this case it’s duck fetus. You’ll often recognize the wings, bones, beak, and more. Balut is a duck embryo and nearly a baby duck. After 17 days (in the Philippines – other southeast Asian countries do it differently), it’s then boiled. It’s often seasoned with a mixture salt, garlic and sometimes vinegar.

Is Balut an outrageous Asian delicacy, or simply classic Pinoy goodness?   I’d call it the most disturbing thing I have ever tried to eat in my life, but let me know what you think in the comments below.

I already posted about 7 Philippine cuisines – foods I ate and liked in the Philippines, but Balut eggs are in another category entirely.

If you’d like to see it in action, I’ve curated some of the best video clips of eating Balut below.

A child introduces Balut during his 1st time trying it:

Food Network’s Anthony Bourdain eats Balut (2:23):

Travel Channel Andrew Andrew Zimmern eats Balut

Eating Balut for the first time:


How to eat Balut:

Videos: beak, feathers, and all (this is not me!)

Fight Quest on Discovery Channel it in January 2008. “Egg with wings” with partially grown feathers.

National Geographic’s video on Balut

[in my previous trip, “stinky tofu” in Taiwan was also on the “too repulsive to eat” food list for me]

More info from Wikipedia on Balut.

Balut didn’t quite make my top 7 Philippine cuisines (favorite foods and meals from the Philippines). What did?  Halo-Halo, Pork Adobo, Kare-Kare, and more.

7 Philippine cuisines -Halo-Halo, Adobo, Kare-Kare, Balut

Delicious Pinoy dishes

While the Philippines certainly aren’t known for their food, below are 7 Philippine cuisines that we enjoyed. I’ve listed my 7 top Pinoy dishes that stand out from my month in the country, and one that I absolutely would not try (it’s a duck fetus – scroll the bottom to see Bourdain eat it).

1. Halo-halo! – it’s #1 not for the taste but for the joy people get just saying the name. It might be impossible to pronounce it properly without smiling. I’m serious – I heard it spoken dozens of times in my month in the Philippines, and each time I’d see a wider smile than the last. I really wanted to like it!  Despite the welcomed enthusiasm, I found it to be disappointingly not that tasty.

Halo Halo! Filippino dessert (Philippine cuisines at Visit50.com)
Halo-halo! Filipino dessert from my first day in the Philippines

What’s in halo-halo?  The name translates in english to “mix-mix” and it’s fitting. It’s always made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and sugar, and then it appears to be whatever they have to throw in. Red beans, coconut gel, jackfruit, tapioca, corn flakes, jelly beans, yams, plantains caramelized in sugar…yeah throw it in!

You may remember Halo-halo! from Top Chef:

Halo-halo was featured as a Quickfire Challenge dish in the seventh episode of the fourth season of reality television series Top Chef. The halo-halo, which featured avocado, mango, kiwi and nuts, was prepared by Filipino-American contestant Dale Talde and named as one of the top three Quickfire Challenge dishes by guest judge Johnny Iuzzini of Jean-Georges. [wikipedia]

2. Kare-Kare – classic Pinoy dish featuring oxtail and vegetables cooked in a thick peanut sauce. Yum!


3. Chicken Adobo / Pork Adobo – a simple yet reliably delicious Filipino staple. It’s chicken or pork (or both!) braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, soy sauce. This Philippine cuisine tastes better than it looks!

Chicken Adobo - Philippine cuisines at Visit50.com
Chicken Adobo

The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook blog says that every Filipino family has their own adobo recipe, and fortunately they share a few variations.

4. Puchero, which translates to stew pot, is a dish with beef in bananas and tomato sauce:

Puchero, which translates to stew pot, is a dish with beef in bananas and tomato sauce - Philippine cuisines at Visit50.com
Puchero, which translates to stew pot, is a dish with beef in bananas and tomato sauce. This is one of my favorite Phillipine cuisines

5.  Longganisa – Filipino sausage, similar to chorizo:

Longganisa, Philippine cuisines

6. Hamonado – pork sweetened in pineapple sauce:

Hamonado – pork + pineapple.

Photo credit + recipe

7. Beef Kaldereta – another simple dish – it’s beef (often goat shoulders!) in a tomato sauce stew:

Beef Kaldereta
Beef Kaldereta – meat in a tomato sauce stew

(recipe & photo credit)

And one that I most certainly did NOT eat –

Balut are duck eggs that have been incubated until the fetus is all feathery and beaky, and then boiled. I’m told you can taste the feathers. That’s right – it’s a duck fetus!  ewwwh!  Check out my full post on Balut, where I explain what it is, how it’s prepared, and show videos of people enjoying it for the first time.

Balut - Visit50.com
Balutduck fetus!

Bonus – this is mostly unrelated to the 7 dish list above, but…

I kept seeing people selling these bacon wrapped hot dogs. How has this not made it to the US yet??

Which is your favorite Filipino dish?


Malaysia: Southeast Asia’s Next Great Foodie Destination

Budget Travel had a good article on Malaysia as Malaysia: Southeast Asia’s Next Great Foodie Destination.

Malaysian food mixes in so many cultures—Arabic, Chinese, Thai, Indian, and more—that you could never appreciate them all in one sitting. So bring your appetite.

For more on my experience: Eat your way around Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur edition



Eat with your hands in Asia

Eat with your hands in Asia

Eat with your hands in Asia for meals like the locals – but be prepared! There may not be napkins, or even soap. Here’s what you need to know to stay clean and safe when eating with your hands in Asia.

[squeemish warning – you may find this post to be disturbing, on par with the post on airline bacteria]

Paradox: The more likely a culture is to eat meals with their hands in Asia, the less likely to find napkins on the table… or even soap in the bathrooms. Disturbing!

Mailbag: After a few posts raving about the fun of choosing your own fresh fish at a market and eating street food, I’ve been asked a bunch of related questions about the quality of food, safety of eating street food, cleanliness of restaurants, and even if the “Three Seashells” method was used (best line from the movie, Demolition Man).  This post is for you! So yes, after traveling around KL and all around Malaysian Borneo, I had to make a few mental adjustments and preparations.

Here are a few observations:

  • Like a lot of other areas in the world, if you’re at a restaurant where you eat with your hands, like I found frequently in Malaysia, often no utensils are used. Occasionally you find chopsticks and definitely no forks, no knives, nothing. Not even a spork!  Westerners are used to using our hands for foods like hamburgers, fruit, and bite sized appetizers, but nothing as little as rice, and nothing messy.

The cleansing power of water

  • That bowl of water is NOT for drinking – street restaurants occasionally have a bowl that acts as a communal hand washing station. In my first exposure to it, the guy next to me dipped his hands in it and the water changed color. I thought it was the first time he washed is hands in days. Lovely. Be prepared…

The Cucumber Method

  • The Cucumber Method: Beyond a bowl of murky water, rarely were any napkins provided, or even available upon request. Occasionally you’d find another bowl with sliced cucumbers, which are not there to be eaten but rather to be squeezed and rubbed until whatever crud you have gets off your hands.
  • If you’re really lucky, in rare instances, instead of the cucumber solution for hand-washing is a dispenser of tiny tissues. Given the previous two bullets, this was a welcome addition. It’s often custom to eat with your hands in Asia, and the food is not exactly neat, so the tissues dissipate right in your hands.
  • Napkins?  Never heard of them. Tissues are apparently the same thing.

    People often eat with their hands, but there’s typically no paper (napkin, towel, tissue) to wipe them afterward, and after going to the bathroom there’s often no soap so they’re just rinsing water on their hands. Then they go back to eating with their hands.

    Here’s the icky part about eating with your hands in Asia..

  • Bathrooms often don’t have toilet paper (or tissues) – get used to making sure you have your own supply with you, or do as the locals do. In most of Asia, locals don’t use “wasteful” toilet paper – they use a hose next to the toilet.  That’s right, it’s the same hose that everybody touches. Perhaps that solution would be fine, if only there were soap…[not a typo]. They eat with their hands, but often don’t provide soap to clean those hands.
  • Bathrooms rarely have paper towels or air drying. and in most cases they didn’t have soap (including nicer places). Apparently they believe in the cleansing power of water and this whole soap thing is a just a fad, and don’t believe in Hepatitus A. How can a country where everyone eats with their hands not have soap in the bathrooms!?!  I found that last part rather disturbing.
  • Now let’s tie this together. Especially in small towns, people often eat with their hands in Asia, but there’s typically no paper (napkin, towel, tissue) to wipe them afterward, and after going to the bathroom there’s often no soap so they’re just rinsing water on their hands. Afterward they go back to eating with their hands.

Thus, I felt like my time in Malaysia was unofficially sponsored by Purell hand sanitizer and Kleenex, because hand sanitizer and tissues were must-have items in my day-bag at all times.  Pepto tablets before meals were a must, especially in unsanitary, dirty, or just questionable conditions . While many people I met got travelers sickness, somehow in 6 months I only got sick once (Jordan in the desert) and not in SE Asia. Eat with your hands in Asia, but be prepared.

With all of that said, I really loved the food in Malaysia, and it was one of the best countries for cuisine out of the 15 countries I visited on that trip. Just be prepared and you’ll love it!

The 3 Seashells Method

Below is the clip I referenced from the movie Demolition Man, which is set in the future. They had an unconventional method of washing their hands.

Eat your way around Borneo!

I definitely ate my way around Malaysia, especially KL and Kuching (in Sarawak, western Malaysian Borneo). I tried all kinds of new dishes – in Sarawak notable new dishes for me included Laksa, Manok pansoh, Kolok Mee, and more.

I loved their seafood markets – for one of they took over the roofdeck of a parking garage and turned it into a fish market, setting up a dozen mini-restaurant vendors like a food court in a mall. Fresh, cheap, and yummy!

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Asia

To celebrate my first Chinese New Year in Asia, I left the jungle and headed to Kota Kinabalu (everyone calls it “KK”), the largest city in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. I was really interested to see how people celebrate; apparently not enough to do any homework on what Chinese New Year actually is. Oops!

For those of you that are as ignorant as I was, it’s a family holiday, similar to the way Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. So there were no big parties with the irrational excitement of elaborate countdowns signifying the exact moment of the new year. Instead I found myself in a predominantly conservative Muslim country (read: doesn’t drink) in a city with 11 bars, on a night that’s least likely to have any energy at the bars. Hmm… Still it was a good time.

We ate at the night market with the locals (dinner for them, appetizer for us). Look at all of that goodness!

Afterward we ate our actual dinner along the beautiful waterfront where most of the bars are.

All except 1 were empty, with more staff than patrons. There’s two more bars clustered on our part of town (10 minute walk), and another nearby. We finally found one to stop by with a live band, and the singer certainly wasn’t expecting us… (more in the next post)