The English text on the menu said “egg with legs”. The Chinese text wasn’t much more reassuring. Huo zhuzi (活珠子) translates to “living bead”. What it is is a chicken egg with a partially developed embryo.
One look at it, and I probably wouldn’t have decided to eat it if I wasn’t with some Chinese friends. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known about it if they didn’t tell me about it. When I posted a picture of it to WeChat, a Chinese social network app, a friend from Hong Kong asked what it was. It is a specialty food of Nanjing and not very popular in China outside of Nanjing. (A related food, the balut, is eaten in the Philippines and southeast Asia.)
Of course, it’s not a terribly strange food for Nanjing people, but it’s unique enough that Nanjing people know it is strange for foreigners. With that said, it isn’t the worst tasting food I’ve eaten either. In fact, it was actually kind of good. I mean, it tasted basically like an egg, anyway, and the partial embryo tasted like meat.
To eat it, you are supposed to crack the top of the shell and then suck the soupy liquid out of it then put some salt and spices on the partially developed embryo and eat the yellow of the egg. Leave the hard white part at the bottom.
If you are in Nanjing and want to try it–or other Nanjing local foods–I would recommend Nanjing Da Pai Dang (南京大排档). The chain has restaurants all over the city, and all of them are decorated with lanterns and rustic wooden tables like the set of a Zhang Yimou film (i.e. old fashioned Chinese country houses).