The first time I ate a fertilized duck egg was at a Vietnamese restaurant in New York City three years ago. I was headed to Vietnam in a few months and knew I'd be writing about something food related, so I spent the run-up to the trip eating as much Vietnamese food as I could. When I saw balut, as fertilized duck eggs are often referred to, on the menu, I knew I had to try it. But as if the chef expected no one to order balut, my dining companion and I were informed they were out of it. "You want us to go get some," the server said, daring us. We called their bluff and soon enough someone from the restaurant was making a fertilized duck egg run to Chinatown. A few minutes later, the eggs were presented to my dining companion and I.
They weren't good. They weren't bad, either. If you closed your eyes and didn't look at the little dead baby partially formed fetus duck pinched between your chopsticks you'd just think you were eating something very egg-y. My dining companion went for seconds but I think he was just showing off at this point.
I thought I'd sworn off eating duck fetuses but a few months later, there I was in Saigon, doing a story
on Vietnamese-born New York chef and prolific restaurateur Michael 'Bao' Huynh for a New York Times
travel article. The mission seemed easy enough: just go where he goes and eat what he eats. The rub, though, was that he was eating congealed pigs blood, rats
, snakes and, of course, those fermented duck eggs.