I just spent three and a half weeks in the Philippines.
I ate balut on the first day.
It was completely unplanned. I promise. Yeah, OK, it was on my list of things to eat. Way, waaay down, at the bottom. Past lechon (pig on a spit), adobo (chicken or pork vinegar soy stew), sisig (sizzling chopped pigs head and chicken liver), arroz caldo (chicken rice soup), kare kare (peanut sauce stew). Even past dinuguan (that’s pork blood stew if you were wondering).
Like, if we seriously ran of things to do, I *might* eat a duck fetus for shits and giggles.
But that is not what happened.
We arrived in Mactan on a Friday morning and met up with our dear old friend Adam. We started on the local beers fairly early in the day and later enjoyed a jolly dinner with his Mactan crew. There was local BBQ (marinated meat on sticks) tacos and of course, local beer. The subject of balut was brought up I mentioned I was interested in trying it…at some stage. Next thing I knew, I was eating balut. In front of an audience. Beer made me brave.
The taste? Familiar. Balut has boiled egg notes and a distinct “ducky” flavour. As a devourer of both eggs and duck meat, it wasn’t the flavour that gave me pause. It was the texture. Why oh why was it so FIRM? I can’t tell you the last time I munched on a crayon (surely it’s been over 30 years) but as I was crunching on balut, I couldn’t help but think it had the consistency of a wax crayon. I finished it like a champ. Washed down by beer of course. I even downed the squishy black thing at the bottom of the egg. I don’t want to know what that was.
I would hate to yuck someone else’s yum. Which finds me trying all sorts of exotic foods on my travels. If it’s food and the locals like it. I’m game to try it.
I didn’t find myself eating balut again and luckily there were many other dishes the Philippines had to offer. We ate out every day and I tried almost all the dishes on my to do list, plus many more dishes I’d never heard of.
The Philippines is a big place. A collection of over 7000 island actually. We touched down on just six of those island. We stayed in an area known collectively as the Visayas where we visited Mactan, Dumaguete, Dauine, Apo, Siquijor, Panglao, Bohol. The Visayan Islands have a population of 19 million with their own unique foods and one of their most celebrated local dishes is kinilaw.
Kinilaw, sometimes called “Filipino ceviche” is usually eaten as a snack with drinks but can also be considered an appetiser. Kinilaw means “eaten raw” so you’ll see menus with dishes like kinilaw na isda (fish kinilaw) or kinilaw na tuna (tuna kinilaw). Similar to ceviche, many types of fish are used for kinilaw including marlin, swordfish, tuna, milkfish and mackerel.
We first tried kinilaw in Dauin at Thalatta Resort. Chilli is optional and Adam recommended we get it spicy. It was love at first taste. It was so good, I visited Thalatta a week later for seconds. I’ve recreated Thalatta’s kinilaw at home because damn if I have to wait until my next visit to the Philippines to enjoy this dish!
I made my kinilaw using tarakihi fillets but you could also use kingfish, tuna, trevally or snapper. 500 grams of fish was a good snack between four people over drinks. Because calamansi isn’t abundant here in Auckland, I used fresh limes. I served my kinilaw with some blue corn chips which is absolutely not authentic but if I go to hell for this, so be it. Do what you want.
Kinilaw na isda
- 500 grams super fresh fish fillets
- 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
- 1/4 cup cucumber, finely diced
- 1/4 cup spring onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh calamansi or lime juice
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly chopped
- Optional: 1 teaspoon white sugar
- Cut the fish into 1-2 cm cubes and place into a bowl along with the red onion, cucumber, spring onion, ginger. Half an hour or so before you’re ready to eat, add the calamansi juice, (sugar if using) and white vinegar. Mix to combine.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and as much chilli as you like. Tip: Make sure you taste your chilli as you add, the chilli I used was HOT so I only added a little.
- Refrigerate for up to 15-30 minutes (don’t over do it!) and enjoy with local beer or a calamansi cocktail and a few friends.