Yan Wo: Traditional Chinese Birds Nest Soup
Gummy Saliva: Main Ingredient in Birds Nest Soup
It is a traditional Chinese and Asian delicacy, a soup made from the dried gelatinous saliva nests that comes from any one of several cliff-nesting swift species from the family Apodidae. This soup has a history of use going back hundreds of years, and is known to parts of Asia, Philippines and Malaysia, Thailand, and of course, southern China where it enjoys a particular notoriety.
Because of the rarity and expense of collecting high-quality cliff-dwelling birds' nests, the quintessential delicacy is quite expensive and tends to be found in only the most exclusive of epicurean eateries. In China where available in the marketplace, the nests are cited to be stationed either behind the retail counters in clear sealed bins, to be served-out upon request. This is purported to ward any theft that might be attempted in an 'open air' market, so expensive and highly coveted are the nests.
The price for the Bird Nest used for soup is determined by a number of factors including the general shape and 'roundness' of the nest, and the density of the material. Loose nest material is also sold for a reduced price and although it has exactly the same qualities as the high-end product, the soup produced is said to not be a visually appealing to the experienced connoisseur. High quality Bird Nests can retail for as much as $10,000.00 USD per kilo in the marketplace and as such, a bowl of this soup can command a price of up to one hundred dollars per serving.
Collecting 'Birds Nest Soup' Nests
A swift (right) of the edible Bird Nest Soup variety. (image source)
The swift species whose nests are sought and so highly prized, attach their nests to the vertical walls of caves often near the water. Harvesters must climb these walls to procure the nests by scraping them from the rockface. These nests, which are built only by the male swift that are harvested for the soup, are first cleaned then boiled either with chicken stock or water. The heat of cooking causes the saliva to turn lumpy and gelatinous whereby it thickens the soup.
Lightly seasoned or not, this is considered to be a great delicacy but it is not to everyone's palate. Some people find the consistency unappealing, or at least find the taste to be rather mild if not completely bland. The soup is alleged to be an aphrodisiac, increasingly longevity, virility and is often cited as a medicinal curative for asthma and other ling-related breathing difficulties.
(image source) Bird Nest Soup
These reasons impart understanding for its popularity especially amongst the Chinese, whom hold strongly to their traditions and traditional medicines. At any rate, Bird Nest Soup has been shown to be a potent source of antioxidants, and at least 19 essential elements and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. Bird Nest Soup is an exotic regional culinary tradition that some might find exciting to try. Others would find their tastes offended.
Birds Nest Soup, -Rare and Unusual Source
Bird Nest Soup has the distinction of being member to a very small class of human edibles that are either secreted or excreted directly by another creature, bee honey being another notable example.
Birds Nest Soup, Ecology and Animal Rights
The collecting and consuming of Bird Nest Soup is not without detractors and open opponents however. It has been charged that over-collecting by virtual armies of people seeking to earn a wage and the harvesting of nests before the birds have had an opportunity to raise their young have arisen.
Another allegation is that other cliff-nesting birds whose nests are not of the edible type may suffer indirectly as their nests are surreptitiously scaled from the cliff walls to offer nesting opportunities for the desired swift species.
Epicurean Delight Despite Concerns for Birds Nest Soup Source
Still, the lure of trying this ancient and traditional delicacy might just pique the interest of the well-seasoned traveler looking to try something different for a dinner appetizer.