The winning article in the 2004 Shiva Naipaul Memorial prize.
There were more than 60 entries from a total of eight countries. The runners-up were Horatio Clare, Simon Matthew Kingston, Joanna Kavenna, Bertie Cairns and Barnabas William Erskine Campbell.
In the Jollibee burger bar, Kuya Virgo held out his hands. Cradled in each palm was a duck’s egg, still warm from its boiling water. He looked at us expectantly; we looked back. My husband reached out first. ‘Thank you, po,’ he said smilingly. I followed swiftly, attempting a little bravado: other British visitors had apparently responded to the ultimate Filipino culinary challenge with enthusiastic fits of vomiting.
Under Virgo’s instruction, we tapped the eggs at the tapered point on the Formica tabletop. Peeling back a little of the cracked shell, I could see what I took to be a kind of avian amniotic fluid inside. Kuya Virgo pushed forward a little bowl of salt, and we each took a pinch to season the liquid. I looked across at Rob; he seemed entirely unperturbed by the experience and merely grinned. Together, we threw back the fluid; it had lost much of its heat, and tasted oddly meaty.
This done, we set to peeling the remainder of the shell from the body of the egg. The white, cooked to a strangely light consistency, was laced with a tracery of black blood vessels, which held in place the tiny embryo of a bird. ‘The secret,’ said Virgo, ‘is not to look; you must just eat.’ Naturally, I inspected mine closely. The little body had a perfect wing tucked behind it; a tender, oversized beak; and vast eyes, boiled to a milkiness that observed me with detectable reproach. I was still considering whether it would be worth risking the inevitable nausea when I saw that Rob had finished his with apparently genuine appreciation, and was reaching for another.