New York’s balut challenge: all the duck embryo you can eat

Jenny Adams

“We may or may not have been drinking when we came up with the idea for this competition,” laughs Nicole Ponseca. “But, really, it’s less about the intimidation factor and more about finding a fun way for us to gather everyone together around something our culture loves.”

Ponseca is a co-owner of New York City’s two hottest Filipino restaurants, Maharlika and Jeepney – both located in the East Village. And, while she’s joking about being tipsy when they devised this eating contest, the average American might have to be slightly drunk to sign up. It’s pretty intimidating.

The second annual Balut Eating Contest hits the Big Apple on Aug. 3. Forget your typical hot dog or apple pie eating challenge. Balut is a fertilized duck egg that’s between 14 and 21 days old, on average. It’s hard boiled, cracked open and consumed warm.

“It’s definitely got a beak, bones and some feathers,” explains Ponseca, of one of her favorite street foods back home in the Philippines. “It’s not your normal egg experience. Balut is messy. Built a bit like a parfait, you have the egg white at the bottom, the duck in the middle and then the yolk is in layers. There’s a broth that you sip like soup – which is most people’s favorite part.

"It’s a non-salty, very hearty poultry stock that’s great for when you are sick. I guess you could call this chicken soup for the soul – with a twist.”

For their competition, the owners of Maharlika and Jeepney call their chicken farm in Pennsylvania more than a month in advance to source 300 balut eggs. The eggs are hard boiled the day of the event and contestants have five minutes to consume as many warm duck eggs as possible. Last year, 10 people signed up for the challenge. This year, 12 will be on stage.

“Eight of the contestants were Filipino last year,” says Ponseca. “I would have said that would be an advantage, but as it turned out, the guy who won was a Filipino who had never eaten balut before this. We were all floored when we heard that. He ate 18 eggs!”

Winner Wayne Algenio took down 18 eggs in just under five minutes and took home the champion duck-egg-eating belt, as well as a handful of local gift certificates, bragging rights and the offer to defend his title again this year.

“I had never tried it before, so I had no clue what it was going to taste like or the texture would be,” he says. “It tastes similar to a regular boiled egg, but with sauce.

Peeling them was hard, but while the clock was ticking, I figured out a strategy to peeling. I won’t divulge my secret, because I’m planning on competing again this year.”

While some might balk at balut, for Ponseca, the duck embryo eating challenge was about something more than mere culinary intimidation.

“Usually when you see balut, it’s on some show like ‘Fear Factor,’” she continues. “While, yes, it is intimidating the first time you eat it, it’s also really delicious and an amazing source of protein that we depend on in our country. I’m always looking for ways to gather old and young Filipinos to hang out in New York City. This is proved to be a perfect event for that. Like any culture, when you move somewhere else, it’s not the same as back home.”

If you want to come out and cheer on the eaters, simply head to the Hester Street Fair on Aug. 3. The festivities start at noon, and the actual competition is at 6 p.m. There’s no admission fee, but expect performances by big name DJs, a set by Filipino soul singer Joe Bataan and lots of traditional lechon to eat. You can also try a balut egg for yourself for $4.