Trứng vịt lộn
I was never an adventurous eater. The mere hint of an idea of putting something potentially unpleasant in my mouth would cause grinding guts and sealed lips. At times of weakness, and extreme hunger, this old narrowness rears it’s ugly head and all I want in front of me is a plate both recognisable and hygienic, but with age and travel my boundaries have expanded. This isn’t to mean that I’ll eat anything, far from it, but just like feeling comfortable in exploring the world alone, I’m learning to taste and enjoy the weird and wonderful.
I’d seen bags of breakfast-time eggs hanging in street stalls across Hanoi, being enjoyed in high-sided tiny bowls which block the contents from view. Parents fed their children from these bowls, so how bad could they really be? I asked my Vietnamese friends who wavered between disbelief and laughter when they realised what I wanted to taste. Finally, Ms Ha came clean and gave me the low down on Trứng vịt lộn.
Firstly, be careful with the pronunciation, something nigh on impossible when it comes to me and the Vietnamese language. See, when mispronounced instead of asking for fertilised duck eggs, you’re probably going to inadvertently request ‘eggs duck female reproductive organ’. In this instance it’s probably better to either point, use interpretive dance, or buy a Vietnamese friend breakfast.
Secondly, they’re fertilised duck eggs.
Behind the counter a woman smacks the hard boiled egg shell with the back of a cleaver, cracking it perfectly in half and deposits the warm shrunken egg and juice into a bowl. I’m busy taking photos while Ms Ha dresses my breakfast. First a sprinkle with salt and pepper, a shower of fine slips of the freshest young ginger and a few rau răm leaves, then the moment of truth.
I poked the egg with my spoon, trying to gauge it’s structural integrity, and some unknowable pink baby duck park poked out (pictured above). Ewww, hello, just a reminder that I really am eating a fetus. Not appetising, but I’d come this far and there was no backing down now. Most of the ducky parts are in the white, and after eating a little bit of beaky gristle, I stuck to the yolk. It had a surprisingly agreeable chewy texture and a meaty flavour with just a whiff of offal taint, all of which was strangely pleasant.
I ate all the yolk, and part of the white, accompanied by sharp hits of juicy ginger and the spicy greenness of rau răm which seemed to balance out the more unpleasant flavours. Unfortunately nothing could mask the textural oddness, nor the visual evidence of feathers and bones. I’d be prepared to give trứng vịt lộn another go, so long as it was supplemented by a slightly more agreeable second breakfast. Which is exactly where Miss Ha took me next, a particularly delicious bun noodle soup stop around the corner.
Adventurous tasting, what?
Watch Anthony Bourdain’s trứng vịt lộn experience: