During these days of pork and offal, its ironic that Elvies Turo-Turo, an East Village cheap-eats mainstay and one of the few Filipino canteens in the city, would close. But its true. A tipster tells Eater that the eponymous proprietress left the business in the hands of her daughter, and the end result is that its now done for good. Elvies is where many an adventurous eater first tried their hand with balut, a chicken or duck egg thats fertilized to the point where the embryo sometimes has feathers when its boiled and eaten in the shell. (If you never had a chance to try the Southeast Asian street snack at Elvies you may remember it from an episode of Fear Factor.) Which raises the question: Where will budding extreme eaters go now?
We were rather surprised to call around town and discover that none of the following Filipino restaurants serve the dish: Bayan Café, Grill 21, Engelines, Renees, or even Ihawan. All of the restaurants told us it was probably available in raw form at Phil-Am, an import store in heavily Filipino Woodside, Queens. While no one picked up the phone there, the owner of Fil-Site Foodmart in Long Island City told us he sold the eggs in cooked and raw forms (both packaged) for $1.50 a piece.
We were about to leave it at that, but then we had a thought: What about Umi Nom, the sister of Kuma Inn? Sure, its not a traditional Filipino restaurant, but maybe owner King Phojanakong was paying respect to his roots? Sure enough, chef Phet Schwader tells us that two weeks ago he added balut to the menu as a $5 special due to customer demand, and itll stay there indefinitely.
Schwader gets his twelve-to-fourteen-day-old duck eggs at a Vietnamese store in Chinatown (on Bowery between Grand and Hester, if hes not mistaken) and poaches them in saltwater for twenty minutes, then serves it in the traditional way with salt, fresh Thai chilies, and soy sauce and vinegar. But before he started doing this, he had to get over his lifelong distaste for the dish he grew up watching his Laotian mother eat. Its one of those mental things, he says. When you get older you taste some of the things that disgusted you when you were growing up and you change your mind about them. Im Asian, so at some point I even had to do that with cheese.