Properly known as bird’s nest soup, it’s been a prized delicacy in China and among Chinese people for 1,200 years. The best nests were reserved as gifts for emperors and empresses, who ruled China as gods incarnate.That’s how deep bird’s nests roots go into the collective Chinese soul.
Tiny swiftlets use their sticky saliva to build nests onto seaside cliffs and cave walls, to save them from predators. That’s not enough to keep them away from the humans who consider the nest powerful medicine, and are therefore willing to pay more for the bird spit nests, pound for pound, than silver.
While trade in edible nests has been recorded since the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), famed 15th century Chinese admiral Zheng He is also credited with starting the Chinese belief in the medicinal powers of bird’s nest. As the story goes, shipwrecked sailors scavenging for food found the nests, and He told them to clean and cook them. A few days later, the sailors were full of vim and vigor, and He figured he should tell the emperor.
The nests have been credited with a long list of benefits, including ensuring strong children for pregnant women and erasing wrinkles for mature matrons, providing lifelong immunity boosts for children and enhancing sexual prowess for men.
Our GM, Elaine Dang, attests to the soup’s medicinal value; ”I drank this when i was young which is where i get my immunity from,” she happily concludes.
So how exactly does the soup taste like? ”The jellylike strands had a slippery spaghetti texture, yet no discernible taste beyond sweetness from the rock sugar the meticulously cleaned nests were steamed with. It occurred to me that here was a food whose value had nothing to do with its flavors or eating qualities, and everything to with its cultural history,” explains Andrew Z. Galarneau News Food Editor at BuffaloFood.
Recognizing their value, Thai, Burmese and Indonesian entrepreneurs have been building condos for edible nest swiftlets, purpose-built structures as tall as apartment buildings. They’re honeycombed with alcoves where swifts can nest, lured by recorded swiftlet calls broadcast over loudspeakers.