Water monitors are one of the most common large lizards found in Asia. They appear throughout Sri Lanka and parts of India, the Malay Peninsula, and some of the many islands that make up Indonesia. The lizards always live near water and are amazingly fast swimmers.
On the Indonesian island of Java, restaurants and street vendors sell the water monitor, known as biawak, as a delicacy. In certain Javanese regions, traditional medicine dictates that consuming the meat boosts the immune system and the libido, and that its rendered fat can alleviate skin diseases and burns.
Vendors most often sell the lizard’s meat in the form of satay, skewers of fried meat served with peanut sauce, sweet soy sauce, chilies, and shallots. It also comes in soups, dried like jerky, or as crackers made from its fried skin. Fried or cooked, the meat mostly closely resembles chicken.
Before ordering biawak, one should consider its commercial exploitation. After sellers exploited the water monitor for its skin and for the pet trade, Indonesia imposed strict quotas on export to protect the species. However, the domestic use of the animals for food is not covered by the quotas and it has been suggested that tens of thousands of wild water monitors are eaten in Java each year. This may or may not be negating the protective effect of the quota system, so any decision to eat this meat should be made with this in mind.