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Bird's Nests Are Expensive and Rare
Soups and Congees
Summer Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(2) pages: 10 to 11
These exotica are common in a soup at a wedding
banquet and at other honorific meals. They are
very expensive, no matter when or how used. The
Chinese see them as expressions of generosity. They are
known as delicacies throughout the Chinese world, and in
some places cost more than a thousand dollars a pound.
These nests are from tiny birds known as swiftlets,
their botanical name is Aerodramus
fuciphagus if they are white nesting
ones, Aerodramus maximus,
if black ones. The International
Trade in Endangered Species
organization has proposed they now
be called Collocalia apodidae or C.
Also known as swallow’s nests,
their use is in a verbal war between
environmental protectionists and
believers in traditional Chinese
culinary customs. Their nests
are collected after the young fly
away abandoning them, and they
remain airborne most of the time.
These nests are found in countries
chronically short of foreign currency,
and that is one reason why it is
difficult to control scavenging them.
In Thailand, for example, the
government owns all their nests,
and they are important export items
contracted with business folk many
of whom have subcontracts with
those who actually collect them. Other
countries can have their own rules as
to who, how, if, and when they can be
Names, behaviors, and businesses aside, these nests are
made from the saliva of these birds and when they dry,
they are cement-like needing lots of soaking, washing, and
cleaning to remove feathers and other debris. This has to
be done before preparing them for a soup or another dish.
It is interesting to note that these tiny birds eat more
than half their body weight in insects every day, so,
for every ten grams of their body weight, they eat
some seven thousand insects every day. A decrease or
increase in their weight means a huge difference in how
many insects each bird actually ingests.
The Chinese believe their nests in use are sponge-like.
They also believe that eating them is good for the skin
as they give a person a youthful appearance. Some of
their nests are more rare than others, particularly those
called ‘blood nests. They have a reddish tinge that some
say is blood in their saliva; but not everyone agrees.
Those with and without this reddish color are shown on
this page and on the cover. Note these bird’s nests are
always sold dried and shaped this way.
Swiftlets are said to fly in the dark
seeking remote locations for new
nests. Those collecting them must
climb on bamboo poles to reach
them, and most are young and lithe
and scamper up the poles often with
their tutors showing the way. Many
poles they climb on were hammered
in location, some virtually cemented
into ceilings hidden from view.
We learn the climbers are mostly
boys, men, and monkeys trained
to retrieve it three times a
season. Before doing so, they seek
permission praying and saying:
“Gods of the pillar, I have my rada,
it was my father’s tool so please
accept the gifts he and I left below
of tobacco and incense. We thank
you for your help as we collect this
fine food and we are holding resin
between our teeth.” As they climb,
they watch bat eyes gleam and
sparks fall from their mouths into
the blackness below.
The climbers tap each bamboo
pole before stepping on it to test
its strength. That is the only noise
they hear as they climb putting the
gathered nests into bags strapped to their bodies. At
the day’s end, they share food below, often a fish stew
warmed over a campfire, then go to sleep before the
next day/s climb.
Experts tell us that there are different colored nests, more
than just the two pictured. Because different articles
cite them differently, we are unsure which is which, if
different just by color, swiftlet type, or other things.
More than sixty percent of the world bird nest supply gets
sold in Hong Kong, it is the world’s largest marketplace.
They sell about two hundred tons each year worth more
than thirty-five million dollars. They are also the world’s
largest consumers of these nests.
Experts tell us the best ones are from Thailand and
are the thickest; second best are those from Vietnam.
Others come from Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Singapore,
Sarawak, Vietnam, and Burma, and that their nests are
most often used in soups. They are also most loved by
those convalescing from many an illness. Several TCM
practitioners said they highly recommend them to those
with lung complaints. They said the black nests contain
the most impurities, red ones have iron oxide from
blood or from rocks the birds may be eating.
Almost all birds nests are shipped to Chinese
communities around the globe after they are cleaned,
packed, and dried in the shape seen on page 10. They
are then included in long-cooked chicken-based soups
consumed for medical or cultural reasons.
Environmentalists feel these nests are not typical
medical products and countries using them should not
import, sell, or use them. For those that do want to use
them, a few recipes follow. We have never prepared
any, mostly due to their expense, but we have eaten
them in soups at many a banquet. Chinese friends and
Chinese chefs tell us they adore making and eating this
soup and other dishes using these nests whenever and
where ever available.
|Bird's Nest Soup|
1 pound bird’s nets, soaked overnight in two quarts warm water, drained in the morning
½ pound pork, chopped
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
½ Tablespoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 pound shredded cooked chicken breast
2 Tablespoons minced smoked ham
2 Tablespoons cilantro, coarsely minced
1. Soak dried bird’s nest for two hours, then add two
quarts of boiling water and remove any feathers or dark
particles left; then drain them again.
2. Cover the bird’s nest with two quarts boiling water
and simmer for two hours.
3. Add the pork and simmer for two hours longer.
4. Next, add sauces and salt, chicken breast and ham,
and simmer one half hour longer.
5. Pour into a pre-heater soup tureen, sprinkle cilantro
on top, and serve.
|Bird's Nest Rice Soup|
1 recipe of bird’s nest soup
1 cup rice cooked for two hours in three quarts of water
2 cups diced cooked chicken
2 scallions, minced
1. Prepare bird’s nest soup and simmer it with the cooked
rice and the rice water for one hour , then add the diced
2. Add scallions, simmer fifteen minutes, then serve.
|Bird's Nest Rice Soup Ham and Mushrooms|
2 ounces bird’s nest. soaked overnight, then drained
1 teaspoon baking soda
3quarts chicken broth
2 cups Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound chicken breast, shredded
2 Chinese black mushrooms
2 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and diced
2 Tablespoons diced smoked ham
1 egg, beaten then fried, and then slivered
1. Pour one quart boiling water over soaked and drained
bird’s nests, then stir in the baking soda, and soak for
two more hours, then drain again.
2. Soak mushrooms in one cup of hot water until soft. Then
discard their stems or shred them and use them when
making a stock or add the soaking water to this soup.
3. Simmer all broth and soaking liquids, the bird’s nests,
rice wine, salt, chicken pieces, mushrooms and their
soaking water, and water chestnuts then simmer for
4. Then add the ham and simmer for half an hour, add
the egg, stir well, and serve in a pre-heated soup tureen
or in pre-heated individual soup bowls.
|Bird's Nest Rice Soup With Rock Sugar|
2 quarts bird’s nest soup
½ cup white or brown rock sugar
20 sweet cherries, pitted
1. Simmer the bird’s nest soup and the rock sugar for half
2. Next, add the cherries, simmer for three minutes, then
serve hot, warm, or cool.