Monday, December 10, 2012

Dispatch from Cambodia, 2 // How to Eat a Duck Embryo, Khmer-Style

Last week we went to stay at my aunt's "farm house" in Setbho to spend a day outside the dust, smog, and noise of Phnom Penh. Wherever we are, a family gathering always means rather continuous eating. It's been overwhelming. It's hard to get hungry when I'm often sweating just sitting around. The lucky part is that most meals consist of fish and rice, which means I still feel relatively healthy. 

After the main part of lunch was over, and after everyone recovered a bit from the food coma, pbong tdia kohn time was announced. Also known as balut. This isn't a typical occurrence in the US, where we've become much more faint of heart, and I would usually shake my head and scamper off, but I decided to go for it this time. My 8-year-old cousin was rumored to be able to eat six or seven, which added to my motivation. 

I'd always seen pbong tdia kohn eaten in the shell, but this time I saw some relatives cracking it into a bowl. Since I managed to open the egg at the wrong end (meaning the larger end, which leaves space to tuck in seasonings), I had to go this route:
It's not cute, I know. And to be honest, I only ate the yolk, which makes me feel like a cheater. I gave it another try, opening it at the correct end this time, which allowed me to use an egg cup (aka a tiny tea cup).
I was used to seeing the salt, pepper, and lime juice as seasonings for the egg, but not herbs. Herbs truly make everything better. I'm not sure whether what we used was a variant of Thai basil, or some other herb, but it was fragrant, slightly sweet, and quite a nice compliment.

Alas, once again, I failed to bring myself to try eating the little partially-formed chick inside the egg. I told this to a relative, and she gave me these tips for next time:
  1. Make the hole just barely big enough.
  2. Break up the egg inside with the handle of the spoon after adding the seasonings.
  3. DON'T LOOK AT IT when eating.
The last tip is my favorite. I think the duck embryo feast was a just-this-once kind of thing, which is fine by me. I'll tuck these tips away for next time. And hope that the eggs are even younger so I won't have to think about feathers.

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