They say you haven't really lived until you've seen grown men and women shove fertilized duck eggs down their throats, and yesterday's balut-eating contest on the Lower East Side proved just that. Curious onlookers and members of New York's Filipino community got the experience of a lifetime as they watched twelve adventurous eaters guzzle dozens of the Southeast Asian delicacy in record time. And no one even threw up.
The contest, held at the Hester Street Fair yesterday, was the joint project of Jeepney and Maharlika, two pioneering Filipino restaurants in the East Village. Balut—fertilized duck embryos that are boiled and in eaten in the shell—is celebrated street food in the Philippines and in many other parts of Southeast Asia, though apparently they aren't typically eaten competitively. Maharlika started the contest last year as a way to fete the city's vibrant Filipino scene, and winner Wayne "Wayney Wonder" Algenio sucked down 18 of them.
This year, Algenio did it again, beating out eleven other hopefuls for the balut-eating title by gorging on 37 embryos in five minutes. So many duckies! Though Algenio says balut tastes pretty good: "It's like eating a boiled egg with a soupy center inside," he told us before the event.
In addition to Algenio, a solid gamut of eaters threw their hats in the ring, including Jeepney's Foursquare Mayor, a Brooklynite who spent four years in Vietnam eating balut "like candy," and a few brave souls who'd never tried balut before ("You're in for a surprise!" one spectator jeered). But they couldn't hold a candle to Algenio's Joey Chestnut-esque balut-eating grace, and he was once again crowned the winner, cracking open the eggs and shoving the embryos down one after another without even breaking a sweat.
Others did not fare so elegantly, and though, much to the audience's dismay, no one spewed vomit on the table, several competitors teetered dangerously close to doing so. We took some video of the competition, and while they don't capture the contest's full weight (or smell), they do it some justice:
After the contest, spectators were clamoring for the opportunity to try balut for themselves, and some were available for $5/serving. For the slightly less audacious, Jeepney and Maharlika served up tasty helpings of roast pork, potato salad and other Filipino delights, which was good news for Algenio: "I feel hungry," he announced to the audience after his victory. A true champion.