Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Chinese Delicacy: Bird's Nest Soup

A sought after and very expensive delicacy in China is Bird's Nest Soup. And it is indeed made with bird's nests.

Tower of edible bird nests
Photo Credit: Nisa
These edible nests are composed of strands of hardened saliva. Male swiflets build their nests with strands of their gummy saliva, which harden when exposed to air. They are built during their breeding season over 35 days.

Edible nest swiftlet resting in nest
Photo credit (with permission): John Oates
Photo Credit: Marcel Holyoak
Edible nest
Photo Credit: Glenn Hurowitz
These edible nests are built very high on the walls of coastal caves. It is dangerous to harvest them, and sometimes deadly, since to harvest them means to climb incredible vertical heights in the dark to pry them off the wall.

Limestone cave where edible birds nests are harvested
Photo Credit: Percita Dittmar
Bird's nest soup is a delicacy that used to be eaten by members of the imperial court. It is supposed to be wonderful for the immune system and one's complexion. To make the soup, the bird's nest is soaked over night, and the gelatinous strands are added to a sweet soup with ginseng and Chinese dates. 

Bird's Nest Soup
Photo Credit: Alaina Browne
Bird's nest are mostly eaten in China, but are imported from countries in south east Asia like Indonesia and Malaysia.

Sorting swiftlet nests in Vietnam - the harvest occurs twice a year
Photo Credit: Deshal de Mel
This is one of the most expensive food products, sold at up to $4,500 a pound. In Hong Kong, a bowl of the soup costs between $30-$100. Fetching these kinds of prices, it is no surprise that over harvesting and poaching has decreased the population - over 90% less then in 1935. 

Boxes of edible birds nests for sale. Note the price of $888.99
Photo Credit: Maisnam
In the past fifteen years or so, they have begun nest farming in concrete nesting houses since the demand has increased. Hopefully this will restore the swiftlet population, and decrease the dangers of harvesting.

Nesting house in Thailand
Photo Credit: Alexander Heitkamp
Hubby and the girls are happy to hear we won't be tasting this delicacy of, essentially, swiftlet spittle. The cost is too prohibitive, though I will keep a look out for them at the Chinese grocery stores in our area. However, cost aside, I would not feel right about eating a nest taken during a bird's breeding season. 

Would you taste an edible nest? If not, what would be the deterrent? 


  1. I'm with you. I wouldn't eat them regardless of the cost. I'm not sure you would ever get me eating bird spit! Your posts are so interesting. Thank you so much for sharing this Chinese journey with us all!

    1. Thanks Claire :)Interesting what one culture considers a delicacy, and another something rather repulsive.


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