Taking a balut for the team

May, 11, 2010
5/11/10
2:24
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Don't watch this if you're about to eat, or are squeamish.
video

Huge thanks to Lucas Jansen for producing that video.

There are a lot of ways this could have gone differently. But this is how it happened:
  • Noah Galuten, a food blogger at Man Bites World, grew up a Suns fan. I grew up in Portland, supporting the Blazers.
  • As the third and sixth seeds, respectively, those two teams met in the opening round of the playoffs.
  • I predicted a Portland win, which almost nobody agreed with, including Noah.
  • Noah suggested a friendly wager.
  • I suggested we should make it so that the loser eats some food the winner picks.
  • Noah instantly suggested balut, which I had never heard of.
  • Portland lost.

Balut, I learned from Google and several TrueHoop readers, is a fertilized egg, normally duck, but sometimes chicken. It matures to a certain point -- in this case, I'm told they were 18 days into becoming big adult ducks -- and then it is boiled (embryo, yolk, umbilical stuff, bill, feet, embryonic feathers and all) for a half-hour or so and served. The eater then cracks open the egg, applies salt or vinegar and the like, sips the juice, and chows down.

It's traditional street food in places, mainly part of the Philippines. In setting this up, however, I can tell you that I have encountered several Filipinos who think it's gross.

However, to honor the bet and my good word, I went out in search of balut. As it happens Noah is good friends with Lucas Jansen, a documentary filmmaker (the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the origins of fantasy sports is his work) who lives in Brooklyn, near Queens, the borough of balut.

I picked Lucas up and we headed to Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside, where there is a fine collection of Filipino restaurants and stores. It was lunchtime, but none of the three restaurants we checked with were serving it. Some said balut -- seen as an aphrodisiac -- is normally served at night.

One woman directed us to the corner store. And sure enough they had it, but raw. The eggs were stacked in the open fridge case. You'd think they were regular unfertilized chicken eggs.

I don't know at what point the little ducks die, but I guess in theory, depending how long ago they had been taken from wherever they were gestating, they could have been alive in the store.

There are many parts of this you simply don't want to think about much. I'm hard-pressed to tell you how this food is more cruel than many others -- lots of animals die lots of ways to please us -- but there's something about not even letting a guy get out of the egg before his demise. The power imbalance!

Lucas, in a stroke of genius, said we had to buy those eggs, and get one of the restaurants to cook them for us. We both knew we were going back to the Fiesta Grill, where the guy behind the counter, Jerome, had not only empathized with our plight, but said he was a basketball fan.

So we bought four of them, (we wanted to share with Jerome and Lucas, who didn't lose a bet, and is a Suns fan, but nevertheless wanted to eat one). They're ninety-five cents each.

Jerome was game, and had his kitchen do the work. Lucas and I warmed up our palettes with some of the other food they serve, which was fantastic, but we ate a little tentatively all the same, because of what was to come. A half-hour or so later, Jerome arrived with the bowl, and we ate, as you can see on the video.

Lucas proved to be a tough guy. He was very frank about the fact that he thought he might puke. But he dug in and ate one. He didn't enjoy it all that much, I don't think. But to his credit, not only did he then take the extra fourth cooked balut egg home (for a while it was in the center console of my car), but went back to the store and bought a few more to share with friends that night. He swears they loved it. Also, he's quite sure that his own consumption of duck embryos (a "this has never happened before" event) had something to do with inspiring Suns backup point guard Goran Dragic to have by far the best game of his young career that same night.

Similarly, some in Portland are trying to ascribe magical powers to the event, and laud me for doing this difficult thing on behalf of the Blazers. (Many thanks to PDX Buckeye for coming up with the headline of this post.)

Let's be clear: This balut, it's not good. It's not awful, but it's like a juicy chicken liver scramble, with little duck parts. You have to think about something else while you eat it just to keep it down. Closing your eyes would be a good move.

I'm from the school that you make your own luck in life. And so long as that's so, can we please make luck for our teams some other way?

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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