Why Swiftlet Bird Nest is the Caviar of the East
Asian cuisines are characterized as rare, exquisite yet exotic. For every country in the continent, you will find a dish that represents the rich culture of the people. One of these is the Birds Nest soup. If you haven’t heard about this tasty soup, you will be surprised to know where it came from.
What is a Bird Nest Soup?
Just like the soup itself, birds nest soup has a rich history.
The rare delicacy comes from the nest of the swiftlet birds. They build their nest in the towering heights of limestone mountain caves. These nests produced by the bird’s saliva. The common color of the nest is white, but there are yellow and red versions of it. Other birds like the Indian Swiftlets produce those colored nest. When mixed in water, it produces a gelatin-like mixture.
China revolutionized this delicacy from the traditional dish to marketable food. Chinese believed to cook the nest for over 1,500 years now. They find the nest with medicinal values, said to cure even cancer. They even included it on other dishes. It is said that during the T’ang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.), swiftlets nests find their way to China from Borneo.
The swiftlet birds are local to South East Asia only. This factor alone contributes to the skyrocketed value of $2,000 per pound as of 2019. In the U.S., you can have the soup for $30 to $100 per serving. This is good for one person only!
Why the bird nest is so expensive?
Bird Nest Ranked 8 in the most expensive food the human consume, with a jaw-dropping $10,000 for a red soup a bowl. There are two main reasons why this rich in flavor soup is so expensive.
1. Harvesting the nest is very dangerous, and fatalities are common.
Traditional gatherers of the Bird’s Nest braved themselves in caves of Borneo, Thailand, Philippines, and other neighboring South East Asian countries. The swiftlets love to create their nest to roofs of dark limestone caves, towering up to 60 meters high. Most of them are without any harness or helmet to protect them. They use bamboo tied with local vines to climb the heights just to reach the savory delicacy.
According to reports, 1 in every 60 gatherers dies due to fall-related injuries. The unstable erected bamboo breaks or slips over time.
2. Inflation and demand
In 1990, the cost of a pound of the Birds Nest was $1,000. Now, it is priced up to $2,000 per pound. Countries like Hongkong, China, and the USA are the top importers of these high-valued nests. Since its discovery and introduction as cuisine, the produced has fallen into a staggering 88%. This cut the supply all over the world, elevating the demand for this rare valuable delicacy. In HongKong alone, a whooping 200 tons a of birds nests a year is consumed.
Home-Cooked Bird Nest Soup recipe
Well, if you can’t afford to dine in a fancy restaurant where the ancient recipe is served, you can cook it yourself. There are lots of recipes you can find on the internet for the bird nest. But if you are opting for the more traditional one, just follow these easy steps.
Bird Nest Soup with Chicken Stock
- Soak nest in the water overnight
- Remove and divide the nest, a 15g per person
- Add chicken stock or broth with ginger and oil and heat until the nest is dissolved
- You may add seasoning to taste
When talking about bird nest recipe, one that is world-famous is the use of dates and rock sugar.
Sweetened Bird Nest Soup
- Soak nest in the water overnight
- Remove and divide, a 15g per person
- Add dates and dissolve the rock sugar with it
- Add seasoning to taste
If Chinatown is too far from you or doesn’t exist, don’t you worry. You can always order online with varieties to choose from. If you are from Singapore, you are very lucky. HoneyCity provides the best and high quality of Bird Nest. These are authentic and straight from Indonesia.
Check out their products here and enjoy the bird nest. They are now on sale!
From the Caves to Urban Farming
With the decline of the numbers of birds in the wild and the danger of harvesting it, gatherers come up with an idea. They bring the swiftlets into their homes: yes, you read it right.
Bird Nest farming is recently becoming popular. People build concrete buildings, as high as three floors, to be the substitute breeding ground. So how do they make the birds stay and create high-prized nests?
They attached a sound system to the building and play a swiftlet sound all day long. By doing so, they ‘fool’ and attract the birds, as if they are already many of them inside.
Local farmers have to mimic the environment where these birds are originally staying. According to one farmer, the humidity has to be right. The smell must be like that of their caves and food should also be present. They use bugs to feed them. This practice of birds nest farming came from Indonesia. Other Asian countries followed up after seeing its potential as a lucrative business.
Bird Nest in Traditional Chinese medicine
From the T’ang Dynasty down to your local Chinatown today, Bird Nest is said to cure illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine sees the use of the Bird Nest not only as a soup but also for:
- Treating cancer
- Use as an anti-aging supplement
- Treating lung ailments
- Increases libido
Despite being made mostly of protein, Chinese people believe these health benefits. However, science is still not confirming the medicinal attributes of the expensive nest. These might be the reason why the demand in Chinese territory is enormous, especially due to the last one!
Environmental Impact of the Bird Nest hunting
So far, no government of any country supplying the “Caviar of the East” conducted a study of the overharvesting and urban farming of swifters nest. However, scientists believe that the declining population of the birds may lead to ecological imbalance. These birds have natural prey, mostly insects.
In 2011, the Chinese authorities issued strict trading and importing rules, as they found contaminated nests with AH1N1 virus.
The rising of the birds’ domestication also alarmed experts. These birds belong to the jungles as they say, and not meant to survive in an urban environment.
Controversies in Thailand
As reported by the San Francisco Gate on December 19, 2000, many companies managed to corrupt the locals and the government to take advantage of the lucrative bird nests. Large corruption around the country is present. These companies hire guards with guns, who will fire to anyone who comes close. Even fishermen who just happen to get near to the cave are being shot.
The rise of the competition of the most sought nests now became corrupted. Local officials turn blind eyes of these shooting incidents not because they are afraid, but because they are paid.
Environmentalists cry foul for their greediness. They cited that even the last (third) nest of the bird is being picked. This is the reason why there is too much decline in their population.