"Scientists Discover Unknown Lizard Species at Lunch Buffet": The Greatest Food Headline of All Time


Thank you, CNN, for writing the greatest food headline in the history of food headlines. Thank you for the combination of revulsion and giddy excitement I experienced when reading it, for that moment of hope I had, thinking, "Please, please, please let this have happened in Seattle," and for the moment of epiphany when I realized that, of course it'd been discovered in Vietnam. Thank you for everything. Really.

More praise, and the story of the lizard at the lunch buffet after the jump.

So the story was simple, the kind of thing that happens all the time. Scientist Ngo Van Tri of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology was out for lunch one day in Ba Ria-Vung Tau. In a small village, he noticed a tank full of lizards. Being a scientist, he asked the owner of the restaurant, "Hey, buddy! What are these lizards doing here?"

And the owner replied, "Those are lunch, pal. How many can I get'cha?"

What confused Ngo Van Tri wasn't that lizards were on the lunch menu (that kind of thing is fairly common in the area, I guess), but that all the lizards in the tank appeared to be girl lizards. Do not ask me how Ngo Van Tri knew this. Do not ask me what he was doing with the lizards to find out. I don't know and I don't want to know.

What's important here is that the lizards were A) unusual enough to catch Ngo Van Tri's attention, and B) all female. He made a call to a colleague, herpetologist Dr. Lee Grismer from La Sierra University in California. Grisner was so excited by the lunch lizards that he dropped everything, grabbed his son (a doctoral candidate in lizardology), hopped on a plane, flew all the way to Hanoi then traveled for two days by motorcycle just to get to this little village in the middle of nowhere. Because that's just what lizard scientists do when they here about a good lunch special--they get all Indiana Jones about that shit and go jetting off to the Vietnamese jungle and ride around on motorcycles. That's why being a lizard scientist is the most exciting job in the world.

In anticipation of his friend's arrival, Ngo Van Tri had arranged for the owner of the restaurant where he'd found the lizards to set aside a whole bunch of them for further study (and, one would guess, snacking). Here's where the story gets even better--where CNN comes through not with just a great headline, but with one of the great passages of modern food writing as well.

"Dr. Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse Grismer, a doctoral candidate, flew all the way to Hanoi and then faced a grueling two-day motorcycle trip out to a restaurant where the owner promised to set aside a stash of the creatures for study.

But there was a little problem, says Grismer.

'Unfortunately, the owner wound up getting drunk, and grilled them all up for his patrons... so when we got there, there was nothing left.'"

Yes, the owner of said lizard buffet got drunk and sold all his lizards to hungry neighbors. And that is just...awesome.

In the end, the scientists ended up press-ganging a bunch of local kids into rounding up some lizards for them and, lo and behold, they really were a heretofore undiscovered species, now called Leiolepis ngovantrii. Grismer again:

"It's an entirely new lineage of life that was being eaten and sold in restaurants for food. But it's something that scientists have missed for hundreds of years."

Apparently, scientists need to go out to eat a little bit more often. God only knows what kinds of things they might find at the local all-you-can-eat buffet.

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