You could be forgiven for thinking that shypoke eggs were indeed what they claimed to be. The wide white outer ring circling a bright orange raised lump certainly gives the appearance of an egg.
If you look closer, however, you’ll notice that the rise comes from pickled jalapeños, and it’s not egg protein but instead melted white and yellow cheeses that provide the color. Shypoke eggs are not what they seem.
The first time I encountered this San Antonio specialty, like many, I believed them to be a fried egg. Though when I learned that instead, it was a Tex-Mex appetizer, I was even more intrigued. The concept was incredibly clever.
The history of the shypoke egg goes back to a man named Loyal D. Hipp. In 1950 he opened a beer joint on San Antonio’s McCullough Street called Hipp’s Bubble Room. It had a festive atmosphere as it was decorated with Christmas lights and a toy train that encircled the bar.
Specialties of the house were cold beer, greasy burgers, and the previously mentioned shypoke eggs. The latter was Hipp’s nod to nachos, which at that time was a new Tex-Mex dish.
As the story goes, in 1943 Ingacio Anaya had created nachos at the Victory Room in Piedras Negras, which is across the border from the military town of Eagle Pass, Texas. A group of Army wives were visiting and asked him to provide a snack to go with their drinks.
Anaya improvised by crisping up corn tortillas, cutting them into quarters, and then layering each with cheese and jalapeño before melting. He called his creation Nacho’s especiales, which translates to Nacho’s specials, with Nacho being a nickname for Ignacio.
In the early 1950s, this border creation had made its way along the border and across South Texas, and had become a frequent addition to menus. During this time, Loyal and his son Dick had a plate of nachos in Nuevo Laredo. As they ate, Loyal decided to make some changes to the original format. The shypoke eggs were the result.
Much like the chicken and egg story, it’s not clear if the optical illusion came first or simply his idea for a round nacho with two types of cheeses. No matter, his creation looked like an egg and he gave it the name shypoke because the word refers to an imaginary bird, which these eggs most certainly were.
In 1960, Dick opened his own joint, Little Hipp’s, a few yards away from his father’s place. His menu also included the shypoke eggs. In 1974, Dick opened a shypoke eggs booth at San Antonio’s Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) festival during Fiesta, and this is when the snack gained massive appeal. Even today, they are still served and its booth often has the longest lines.
After Little Hipp’s closed in 2002, one of its cooks, a man named Tim Lang, opened a restaurant called Timbo’s. With the Hipp family’s blessing, he also included the eggs on his menu. It’s since closed, however, which leaves only the Fiesta booth as the only commercial venue to offer them. I decided to try my hand at making them at home.
Now, the ones offered at Fiesta and the eggs’ previous restaurant homes used American cheese. When making mine, however, I went with Monterey Jack for the white ring and yellow medium Cheddar for my “yolk.”
While you can make these with regular six-inch corn tortillas, I picked up some small three-inch corn tortillas that are targeted for street tacos and found they made the snack more portable. I fry my tortillas but round tortilla chips could also be used, too.
Here is a recipe that provides some guidance in terms of the amounts of cheese used and timing. Though if you have any experience making proper nachos, you’ll not only find this very similar but also a loose dish that can be accommodated for your own needs, too. Serve with salsa on the side.
- 2 tablespoons safflower oil
- 16 (3-inch) corn tortillas
- 16-32 pickled jalapeño slices
- 8 ounces Monterey Jack, shredded
- 4 ounces yellow Cheddar, cut into 16 small squares
- Salsa, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Pour the oil onto a sheet pan and then arrange the tortillas on it, spreading them around on both sides so they are coated in the oil. Bake on a middle rack for 15-17 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp. Remove from the oven.
- Arrange an oven rack 6 inches from the heating element. Turn on the broiler.
- After a few minutes, when cool enough to handle, arrange the tortillas evenly spaced across the sheet pan if they’re not already.
- On each crisped tortilla, place in the center 1 or 2 pickled jalapeño slices. Next, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of shredded Monterey Jack cheese evenly over the tortilla and jalapeño. Lastly, place a yellow Cheddar square in the center over the pepper.
- When all are topped, place the pan under the broiler and cook until the cheese has melted, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately with salsa.
Sounds like a great potluck idea…
Terry–That would be fun!
Armadillo Burger, the restaurant in Little Hipps’ old building, still makes these. They call them armadillo eggs, but they are the same. They use swiss cheese as their white cheese.
Will–Thank you for the update! Next time I’m down there I will pay them a visit! And that’s an interesting twist with the Swiss cheese. I heard that sometimes people requested ham on their eggs (ha!) and I think the two together would be fantastic!
Yes Lisa! I forgot Timbo’s had shypoke eggs with ham AND sliced tomato!
And btw, Armadillo Burger has a great bean burger too. Their fiesta burger.
Another reason to visit!
I used to go to Hipp’s frequently when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston.
As I recall, the white cheese, probably Monterey Jack, was laced with chopped jalapeño (Pepper Jack), and there was a single sliced jalapeño right under the “yolk,” on top of the white.
The tortillas were soft, not crisp, and didn’t seem to be typical store-bought corn tortillas. Maybe they were a combination corn and flour recipe.
Thanks for the memory, Lisa.
I think you meant this reply for todd instead of me.
Ha ha! Thanks!
George–Thank you for sharing your memories!
Wow, Lisa. This is an amazing post. A Hall of Famer for you. That’s saying a lot, since the posts you create are always stellar. This post alone is pretty much worth the price of a subscription (which I have been happy to do since the day they were announced). The history alone is an awesome story. (And then linking to that salsa which I either overlooked or was before my time…. yum!)
Some quick questions/thoughts, if you have the time.
1. For the cheddar, what do you think about shredded instead of cubed? I would shred myself because I know they add stuff to make it anti-clumping which degrades the flavor. I am just wondering if your reasoning on cubing it is because you feel like it looks more convincing as a yolk that way.
2. After you fry the tortillas, are you using the same sheet pan for the broiling part? If so, I’m assuming you dump the oil and dry it first? (What an ingenious way to fry the tortillas, too.)
3. This one is more just a brainstorm. No real need to answer. I’m thinking substitutes for the Monterey Jack cheese… Cotija? (may be too crumbly). Queso Blanco? Heck, even Pepper Jack.
Upon re-read to make sure I got everything, I think #1 is answered by one of your pictures, but would still love to hear your opinion.
Thank you for such an awesome blog!
Regarding your question #1, the main additive which prevents clumping is sodium citrate, which you can add to shredded cheese (2% of the weight of the cheese) before melting.
American cheese already has the sodium citrate in it, which is why many Mexican restaurants use it as a topping.
I know your question dealt with the yellow cheese, but, FYI, if you live in Texas, HEB sells a hot pepper cheese at their deli counter which is a white American cheese laced with finely chopped jalapeño.
George–Thanks for sharing your insights!
Todd–Thank you for the high praise! You’ve made my morning! As for your questions, here are my replies:
1. It melts into a yolk shape more convincingly as a square than shredded but both will work.
2. Yes, I’m using the same pan, and since there’s such little oil and it’s mainly absorbed by the tortillas, I never found any need to drain any.
3. Cotija and queso blanco won’t melt very well, I would imagine, though you may try. Any soft white melting cheese, like pepper Jack, muenster, mozzarella, etc. could be used instead, though.
Enjoy the Shypoke eggs!
There are a few brands of shredded cheese which are a little more natural in their approach than others. For instance, Tillamook uses potato starch as an anti clumping agent. Even though their packaged shredded cheese is a little pricier than other brands, their 4 cheese Mexican blend is delicious and easier for me than purchasing multiple cheeses just so I can through some grated cheese on my scrambled eggs. They used to have a spicy version–guess I was the only one buying that and my supermarket dropped it.
Janet–Thank you for the tips! Though that’s too bad your market dropped the spicy version.
This recipe has been a big hit at home and at work. I wonder if you ran across the origin of the name or term ‘shypoke’ in your research?
David–Hipp said it came from a Midwestern term for an imaginary bird.