Note: This post is not for the squeamish or for rabid animal protectionist types.
Growing up, my mom introduced me to eggs that had been hatched from a monitor lizard.
She’d wash the dirt off the shells and then soft-boil them. I remember the thrill I felt squeezing every last drop of the yolk onto hot white rice. Even at that tender age, I was already a hardcore egg lover. Known locally as bayawak, this is the largest lizard found in the Philippines, reaching up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length, and is a cousin of the (Indonesian) Komodo Dragon. Bayawaks are carnivorous, opportunistic feeders and will eat various small animals such as chicks, insects, and fish. They live near fresh or salt-water bodies and are good swimmers. Various bayawak species are scattered throughout the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu. Hunted for their skins, the lizards are at risk of extinction compounded by mindless destruction of their habitats.
In the Philippines, bayawak meat is made into dishes like adobo, and according to the older folk, arroz caldo con bayawak is a panacea for all ills. I won’t go that far, but I’m quite a fan of the bayawak eggs. The lizards lay 7 to 35 soft-shelled eggs, most often found deposited in holes in riverbanks or in trees where water courses through.
I’m at the Saturday Salcedo Market and I yelp in surprise when I catch sight of the cluster of bayawak eggs. The egg itself is roughly two inches long with a soft, leathery exterior. Its shell is caked in dirt, obviously, since some intrepid hunter probably had to burrow deep in the soil to find it. Cupping the egg in my hands, I feel a certain kinship with this egg — I have to respect it by cooking it properly. I tell the vendor that I’d like to buy two eggs.
“Ma’m, two hundred pesos ang isa. Rare na ang mga ”˜to.” she says.
“HA?!!” I squeal in shock, balking at the price. “Ah, ok, isa nalang.” I amble over to my sister, clutching my precious bayawak egg to my chest. “Trix! I just paid P200 for one egg!” I whisper excitedly, still in semi-shock. My sister turns her attention away from the bread loaves she’s been studying and looks at me straight. “Well, for someone who once spent P700 on an ostrich egg, I’m not surprised,” she says pointedly. Oh. I’d forgotten about that.
The egg is so soft, almost vulnerable really, like pressing a child’s arm. I gently wash away the dirt before I cook the egg, the same way I cook a soft-boiled chicken egg: submerged in a pan filled halfway with water over medium heat. When the water comes to a brisk simmer, I turn off the heat and cover the pan for three minutes. I then drain the hot water in the sink and then submerge the now-cooked egg over cold water to arrest any further cooking. Briefly dabbing it with some paper towels, I feel a rising sense of anticipation as I grab some scissors and snip off the tip of the egg. The egg is noticeably softer now, as is its shell.
Flipping the egg over onto a plate, I squeeze the shell gently. What emerges is the (egg) white, more liquidy than viscous, followed by a pale yellow thickish substance that looks a lot like pastry cream. The yolk ”“ if you will ”“ comes out in squirts that yield alternately long and short “strings.” Frankly, it looks and feels like piping out frosting from a pastry bag.
Now empty, the shell is a flat oval, actually looking spent from having given up its prized possession. Admittedly, the resultant mixture on my plate looks like a combination of thick cream and whey with liquidy egg whites that refused to solidify. I imagine that this sight will turn stomachs, as it did for my Bin when he comes down for lunch. “I got a bayawak egg at the market,” I tell him proudly, holding up the plate inches from his face. “Do you want some?”
“Bayawak?!! As in, lizard???” He practically spits out the last word. “I know what that is and I don’t want any of it. Gross!” He shivers involuntarily and opts to leave the table. “Call me when you’re done eating that atrocity,” he calls back over his shoulder, shivering again. I chuckle.
My mom and dad used to eat bayawak eggs squirted over hot rice. This time, I choose to just sprinkle some sea salt over the egg and eat it slowly, each spoonful a meditation. It has a pasty, almost chalky texture that sticks to the roof of my mouth, and then after each swallow, an eggy aftertaste appears. Some parts of the egg are thick, like mashed potatoes in consistency, others are more fluffy, similar to eating marshmallow fluff. This experience for me — finding and eating a bayawak egg again — after encountering it in my childhood fills me with gratitude and the confirmation that I have an unrepentant love affair with the egg.