Besides comfort food such as pho or com tam, there is one iconic street snack which can tickle your curiosity and terrify you at the same time: hot vit lon (balut). Remaining one of the world’s most bizarre foods, hot vit lon — duck egg embryo boiled and eaten in the shell — has long been a distinctive feature of this ubiquitous sidewalk dish. Besides being good for pregnant women and nutritious for babies as it helps to cool down body temperature, there are other reasons why the consumption of this food is vibrant.
The name hot vit lon literally means a duck that has turned its body upside down (to get ready for hatching). Because of this name, many people believe eating hot vit lon can reverse their fortune. But for this to work, the number of eggs eaten must be an odd number — one, three, five etc. Some people even crush the shells after finishing to ensure the bad luck cannot get back inside. I am not superstitious, but I must admit there have been several times when I was in need of a change, and something unexpected would take place after eating hot vit lon.
This aside, the food is a bonus for students’ pockets too. There is a reason why hot vit lon is most popular near university and college campuses in Vietnam. Most students who pursue higher education in cities like Saigon are from rural provinces, with limited financial support. Many have to rely for sustenance on instant noodles. For them, hot vit lon is an affordable and healthier replacement, with VND20,000 being enough for three eggs to fill the stomach.
The hot vit lon business has long been a choice for street sellers who want to start their own food stall with a modest budget. As it does not require complicated amenities to set up a hot vit lon street stall, anyone can start the business, as long as they know the recipes — boiled, fried with tamarind sauce or butter-dipped.
"I work as a cleaner in the hospital during the day, and then run this stall from 6pm,” says Mrs. Hong, a hot vit lon seller on Quoc Huong Street in District 2. “This allows me to use my time and gives me a second source of income.”
A ‘How To’ Guide to Eating Hot Vit Lon
As simple as the cooking is, eating hot vit lon is not easy. Besides the duck inside the shell, hot vit lon has the ability to cool down your temperature, so it is recommended to eat it with rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) or ginger, which can warm you up and is usually served with the dish, to balance the taste and the heat.
The correct way to start is to put the smaller part of the egg into the cup and the bigger part facing up. This rounder and larger part is where the broth remains, which you can sip from after peeling off the shell flakes.
The more recent the egg, the smaller the duck and less horror for you to enjoy. There are many ways to find out if the egg is new, or is about to hatch, but the best way is to shake it. If the egg is fresh, you will barely hear anything at all since both the duck and the rest are still sticking closely to one another. However, if it’s an old one and not far from hatching, it will make a small clattering sound.
Getting Your Fix
Here are some places you can try out for clean and new eggs:
Hot Vit Lon Kim Thao
107 Xuan Thuy, Q2, HCMC
VND9,000 per egg
Mrs. Hong’s Stall
Opposite 38 Quoc Huong, Q2, HCMC
VND6,000 per egg
Hot Vit Lon Cong Quynh
43 Cong Quynh, Q1, HCMC
VND3,000 to VND12,000 per egg