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Eggs Across the Archipelago

In most parts of Indonesia eggs are not only used in cooking but also play a role in ceremonial customs. And, when we speak about eggs, we usually specify the type: telur ayam (hen eggs), telur bebek (duck eggs), telur puyuh (quail eggs), telur angsa (goose eggs), telur maleo (giant eggs of the small maleo bird in Sulawesi) and telur penyu or kura-kura (turtle eggs).

Neither maleo or penyu are allowed for consumption because they are protected species. Those who have tried maleo eggs say they have a distinctive sweet taste as Indonesia’s leading gastronome and epicurean Suryatini N. Ganie explains.

Even when maleo eggs were consumed, they were only for kings or very important persons of the region, due to their rarity. The diminutive maleo birds do not produce many eggs. I once held a maleo egg and it was about the size of a man’s hand — even though a maleo is no bigger than a small quail.

Aside from being nutritious and common, chicken eggs are also used for traditional ceremonies. At wedding ceremonies in Central Java or in other places where the parents of the bride are still traditionally minded, a hen’s egg has to be broken by the bridegroom by way of crushing it with his right foot. Using a bokor, a traditional brass basin, the bride then washes the groom’s to represent the wife’s subordination to the husband. So modern couples often omit this ceremony.

In Sumatra decorated boiled eggs are given to wedding guests.

Along the north coast of Central Java rice and a hen’s egg are stepped on in the front yard of a newly built house to ensure will be always enough food there. Meanwhile, new servants are to smash a hen’s egg on the floor in the hopes of never breaking any of the employer’s valuables.

As for cooking, in the beginning of the 20th century, eggs were fried in oil, not butter or margarine, making them chewier. The nobility liked them this way and the normal people followed their tastes.

The most popular way to cook an egg at the time was to make a thin dadar (omelette). This is still the choice when one is in a hurry or needs garnishing for nasi goreng.

Goose eggs were eaten when chicken eggs weren’t available and one egg might be divided into as many portions as those present. Because of its distinctive eggy taste, this isn’t the best choice for gourmets.

Among the most popular today are quail eggs. They are said to be a beauty food and the way to have flawless skin.