Living in the city of Manila, I would often see the sidewalks lined up with vendors offering inexpensive items from clothing to food. Some vendors would even pound the streets peddling their goods to keep up with the competition. One of the iconic traveling vendors in the country is the balut vendor. He is the pioneer of night shifting even before the call center industry boom hit the Philippines shore. His usual work schedule starts at 7PM up until the wee small hours of the morning.
In my early teens, whenever my siblings and I would hear after dinnertime the call, “Baluuuut”, we would scramble to our feet and run to our gate and shout back, “Balut! Balut!”. The balut vendor would instantly know that we are interested to buy; he would stop in his track and drop his basket on the ground right near us. What we are craving for is balut, a fertilized duck egg that is boiled to perfection and eaten with salt.
As my older siblings are huddling with him to peek at the pile of balut eggs warming up in his basket, I am left on the sideline to stare at the balut vendor whom we respectfully call as ‘Manong’.
Here is a glimpse at some of the characteristics of a typical traveling balut vendor in the Philippines.
1. Carrying a round woven basket
If you see someone carrying a round woven basket in his arms and there is a bottle of spiced vinegar and a bunch of clear plastic bags filled with chicharon (fried pork rinds) hanging at the side of the basket, your brain would easily identify that man to be a balut vendor. His woven basket has a single handle, lined inside with cloth, and has a circular cover made of foam at the top. Some has swapped the basket with the Styrofoam cooler box but this is seldom seen.
The bicycle is now used by the traveling balut vendor as a new leverage in his business. For a small fee, he would rent the bicycle each day to increase his mobility and enable him to offer more types of nightly snack to his customers. Although his basket is not easily seen from afar, the balut vendor can still be recognized by the chicharon or quail eggs or roasted peanuts in clear plastic bags tightly tied in a bunch in front of his bicycle.
2. With lean physique
It is very unusual to see a traveling balut vendor to be overweight. The daily walking or cycling over long distances creates for him a lean body with toned arm muscles. His legs are shaped similarly to the firm legs of a walkathon or cycling enthusiast. Given the heavy weight of the egg basket and the bulk of his other snack offerings, he must also have a good sense of balance.
Selling balut in the street can generate a profit between 3-4 pesos per balut to the traveling balut vendor. If he gets to sell 40 balut eggs daily, it would be an income of 120-160 pesos. Coupled with his profit from the other goods such as penoy egg, chicharon, etc, his nightly net income is between 250-300 pesos. This is less than the daily minimum wage of a worker if you are living in the national capital region (NCR) of the Philippines.
Thus, the traveling balut vendor could be an individual who is still studying and just doing this activity part-time or someone who is unable to find a more lucrative source of income because he has not finished his high school or college education. One traveling balut vendor that I talked to admitted that he was an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) whose employment contract has ended.
4. Street smart
Although not well-educated academically, the traveling balut vendor has an advanced knowledge of what streets are safe to pass by at night and is on alert for the modus operandi of muggers. He would hang out near bakery shops and/or entertainment bars to catch the attention of the customers craving for late snacks and balut.
5. With a touch of charm
It is common to have the nighttime street scenery of the Philippines dotted with small group of buddies having drinks especially during weekends. Balut is a nice pulutan or finger food with alcohol. The traveling balut vendor would sometimes be made fun though by these intoxicated customers during the sale process. He knows how to manipulate them with charm and brush off their teasing to complete the sale safely and quickly.
6. Has the ability to modulate his voice
A traveling balut vendor would alert his customers of his approach by calling out aloud, ‘Baluuut’, over and over again as he passes by the streets.
For a typical balut vendor, he would say that ‘foam is king’. The balut and penoy eggs are systematically stacked in the basket on two levels separated by foam. The cloth and foam lining and top foam cover also serve as insulator to maintain a warm temperature inside the basket. They also cushion the eggs from the constant jarring.
If there are balut eggs that are not sold at the end of his shift, the traveling balut vendor would sell these leftover eggs first the next day. He would separate it from the other eggs by placing it in a special section of his basket.