Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Binge - My First Time Brewing Bird's Nest

When it comes to food, I am probably the most untraditional of Chinese women. Probably the most uninformed as well. I am not into double-boiled soups (what they term as 'po-tong'), nor have I ever drunk or brewed a nourishing health tonic and I am totally disgusted by the thought of eating innards, chicken feet or neck, fish head and pig's and chicken liver of any kind (with the exception of foie gras) and I have most certainly never ever eaten Bird's Nest which is interestingly also known to the Western world as the "Caviar of the East". This was up until last week when my husband decided to be charitable and support a friend who was out of a job by buying some bird's nest from him. 

At first I was skeptical. What grade of Bird's Nest has a four figure price tag and why was it so expensive? And now that he has bought it - what was I going to do with the stuff? Apparently Bird's Nest (and I am sure you already know this at the tender age of 40) comes from Bird Saliva. "Disgusting" was my first reaction. "Who wants to ingest what a bird spits to glue its nest together?" I decided to do trawl the net for more info on why this delicacy has earned it's stripes. 

I discover that only some nests are edible and these are from the White-nest Swift or the Black-nest Swift. The Swift builds its nest during the breeding season and it is the male swift that laboriously takes 35 days to produce interwoven strands of salivary laminae that cement the nest together. It is nice to see the male doing some of the work!  The nests take the shape of a shallow cup and these stick to the cave walls where Swifts build their nests. 

To tell if you have bought a real or fake bird's nest, hold it up against a light source. If it is real thing, you will notice that light penetrates through the nest. The fake bird's nest will reflect light and look opaque. Also some fake bird's nests are made of "Malaysia rubber" or "pig skin". The former smells and tastes acidic and does not contain nest threads while the latter releases oil after soaking in water. 

What is secreted  in the Swift's saliva is rich in nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium that have supposed health benefits including improving your voice, alleviating asthma, building immunity and even improving libido. They say that if you want to improve the quality and texture of your skin, drinking bird's nest regularly before bed is a must. That alone peaked my interest so I bugged my Mum to ask her friend who swears by the stuff for her recipe which I am sharing below.  

1. Take the required amount of Bird's Nest - usually 1 nest for two bowls of soup and soak it in tap water in a bowl until it expands fully. This could take about an hour depending on the grade that you have bought. 

2. Drain the birds nest and then put it in a small pot or a big porcelain bowl. Pour in hot water according to the number of bowls of soup you want to consume. If you are using one nest then about 2 to 3 bowls of soup is a good gauge.

3. Put this pot into a larger pot of water and let that boil over a very small fire for about half an hour. 

4. Add rock sugar or honey rock sugar to taste just before it is ready. Optional is to add a pandan leave just before taking it off the boil. 

5. Serve warm and drink before going to bed. 

My verdict - I actually like the light and slightly sweet flavour of the soup and the gelatinous nature of the bird's nest. I found it quite soothing to have a warm cup of Bird's Nest before I go to bed especially now in Hong Kong where the temperature is about 16 degrees and a little lower at night. 

However be warned - drinking bird's nest however expensive just before bed may not be the best idea. I got up 3 times that night to pee. So much for the skin retaining the essential goodness.  

I have no idea how regularly you are supposed to drink Bird's Nest to see results so if you are a connoisseur, could you please share your thoughts here!

- Elaine 


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