Fertilized Duck Eggs (Hot Vit Lon)
I used to work in Oakland. During lunch time on Friday, I would head over to the farmers market near Oakland Chinatown to chase down the kettle corn guy and more importantly, get me some fertilized duck eggs. These eggs are known as Hot Vit Lon, pronounced as Hope-Yit-Lom, to the Vietnamese and Balut to the Filipinos. You don't bring these bad boys home to hatch. You boil these babies up and eat them like hard-boiled eggs, but with something very different inside. They are delicious and freaky at the same time.
If you never heard of this type of egg and are willing try it, don't ask what it is or see what's inside. Just cook them up, close your eyes and try them. Most likely you will find them to be very tasty. If you decide to look them up and learn more about them, you might get squeamished. These eggs have appeared on shows such as Fear Factor where contestants have to do crazy stunts and eat crazy things. It cracked me up, pun intend, that a Vietnamese contestant on one episode happily ate the fertilized duck eggs as one of the challenges. While others were crying and puking, he ate the eggs without skipping a beat. That's because in Vietnam, among other Southeast Asian countries, they are a nutritious delicacy. Also, they are said to have healing effects for women after giving birth and of course, like all other weird food, it's believed to improve sexual virility in men.
So what's inside that makes these eggs different? These fetal duck eggs contains an embryo. You read that correctly. An embryo of about 14 to 17 days old. There are beaks, feathers, legs ... the whole shabang of a baby duck looking back at you if you're lucky. And you eat the thing whole thing ... head, bones and all.
If you are brave enough to try these eggs, hard-boil the eggs for about one hour. Once warm enough to handle, crack the widest end of the egg with the back of a spoon. Then gently peel back the shell and membrane with your fingers. Take a sip of the flavorful broth at the top. It tastes like chicken soup but 100 times better. Then use a spoon to scoop out the solids. The perfect fetal duck egg has the good amount of yolk as well as baby duck. Add a bit of salt, pepper and lime juice and enjoy. In Vietnam, we chase the richness of the embryo and egg yolk with peppery Vietnamese Coriander (Rau Ram). At the bottom of the egg is a white albumen. It is edible but I usually discard it since it's hard and rubbery.
You can find fertilized duck eggs in Vietnamese/Chinese markets. They are of an off white color with pale grey streaks and spots. They are usually marked with a stamp on one end to indicate the correct end to crack. Although available at the market, I rarely buy my fertilized eggs there. I get them from a reliable source such as a reputable vendor in a farmers' market who specializes in these eggs. I have found that Asian markets have much older eggs because they continue to sell way them way passed the ideal incubation range. When fertilized duck eggs are passed 20 days of incubation, you definitely don't want to eat them. The embryo is too big and there's very little yolk left. At that point, for goodness sake, throw it out. Better yet, hatch it!