Fertilized Egg Embryo (Trứng vịt lộn, or Vietnamese Balut) in Hanoi, Vietnam

Trứng vịt lộn, or Vietnamese Balut (fertilized egg embryo) 

in Hanoi, Vietnam

I have a philosophy when I'm traveling: one usually shouldn't shun any local dish until they've actually tasted it. After all, how will you know that you don't like something until you've eaten it? I'll usually try anything once (so long as it's safe).

My dedication to this philosophy was tested recently on a sunny morning at Hanoi, Vietnam's Hoan Kiem Lake when I first encountered an infamous dish known as trứng vịt lộn.

a bowl of trứng vịt lộn, or Vietnamese balut (fertilized duck egg embryo) in Hanoi, Vietnam
a bowl of trứng vịt lộn, or Vietnamese balut (fertilized duck egg embryo) in Hanoi, Vietnam

What to eat in Hanoi, Vietnam (Hanoi Food Guide)

One morning in Hanoi, one of my Vietnamese friends took me out to Hoan Kiem Lake in search for something very... well, I'm not sure if "special" is the right word. Something very unique.

We had previously been talking about strange food, and the topic of balut had come up. According to Wikipedia, balut is "a fertilized developing egg embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell".

Balut is eaten throughout southern China and Southeast Asia, but I had never encountered it before. I was already hesitant as we approached the tiny plastic stools on the side of the road in front of the small local shop where the dish was sold, and I became more anxious as my friend spoke in Vietnamese to the shopkeeper. I was not sure whether I would be able to force myself to taste this delicacy. The streetside shop we were eating at was one of Hanoi's local "bia hoi" joints - a small shop selling snacks and the world's cheapest draft beer. To be safe, I asked my friend to order me a beer as well.

So, there are really two types of balut. There's the infamous 21-day balut, in which you can see the nearly fully-developed duck embryo. Then there's 14-day balut. You can definitely tell there's something funky about the egg, but if you don't look too closely, you won't be able to make out any details. Fortunately, our balut was of the 14-day variety.

I really try to be open-minded when I travel, but I have to confess that this was the first food I've ever encountered on my adventures that turned my stomach. I understand it's a beloved delicacy, but when the little bowl with its single veiny egg arrived in front of me, I didn't know if I could do it.

a serving of 14-day balut in Hanoi, Vietnam
14-day balut in Hanoi, Vietnam

However, I'm a man of my word. I said I'd taste it, and I would have been disappointed with myself if I didn't.

The egg was served in a thin broth made of ginger and other herbs. I couldn't bring myself to eat the actual duck, though, so I just took a tiny portion of the boiled egg white. Honestly, it barely had any flavor at all. It just tasted like a boiled egg, and I have to admit, the broth and the egg was pretty good.

I'm not sure I'd order it again. I had my portion, then downed my bia hoi (local $0.20 Vietnamese draft beer served over ice). I let my friend finish the balut, and I enjoyed my beer. Win/win, right?

Still, it was an experience I'll never forget.

Even if you want to be adventurous, it doesn't mean you can't set limits for yourself. I'm not out to judge what other people enjoy or decry it as gross or bad. It just wasn't for me, and I think that's ok. There's plenty of other amazing Vietnamese food out there for me to try.

Some of my favorite dishes in Hanoi


A serving of balut (1 egg) cost 15k VND (about $0.60).

A glass of bia hoi (draft beer served over ice) cost 5k VND (about $0.20).

Where to get it

You can find this dish in Hanoi's old town at any of the many bia hoi shops along the roads and alleyways of the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake. Look for a little counter that looks something like this:

where to find banh mi, balut, and bia hoi in Hanoi, Vietnam
where to find banh mi, balut, and bia hoi in Hanoi, Vietnam