- Food and Cooking
Bird Nest Soup
A couple of Birds Nests
What is Bird Nest Soup?
Bird Nest Soup is a soup which is produced using the nests of the Cave Swiftlet (Aerodramus/Collocalia species) as a base.
The Cave swiftlet does not construct its nest like many birds from twigs and moss but out of its own very sticky but quickly hardening saliva.
The diet of the Cave Swiftlet is exclusively insects which it catches on the wing. The nest then, in essence, is insect based. It is known as 'The Caviar of the East.'
Who eats the soup?
The origins of Birds Nests as a food are Chinese and the belief that it has aphrodisiac properties have led to it being very popular in Chinese communities wherever they occur.
The Soup will appear on the the menu of practically every Chinese restaurant in the World and wherever there is a Chinese community there will be 'nest dealers'. Sometimes that is all they sell but often they will also deal in Abalone, Deer velvet, Sharks fin and similar. Travelling around Asia and seeing the hundreds of shops selling many thousands of nests it is difficult to imagine that there could be that many Swiftlets in the World. It may come as a surprise then to learn that one of the biggest nest importers is the United States of America.
Today the nests are not only used in soup but also in soft drinks and 'pep' drinks sold at the corner shops in Thailand.
Happily the collection of nests is controlled. If this were not the case the Swiftlets would become extinct in a trice. Some caves have been in the ownership of families for generations and it is in their own interests that the birds remain healthy populations. Only some of the nests are collected and the birds allowed to peacefully rear their chicks afterwards.
Today nest production has been expanded by the building huge concrete towers which act as artificial caves. In Indonesia alone there are over half a million of these houses. People have given over their own homes to the swiftlets and are only too quick to realise what a lucrative trade it is. In one instance in Pattani in Thailand swiftlets took over the basement of a hotel and became the best paying customers.
Swiftlet farming/ranching today has made the birds almost a domestic species.
Indonesia remains the biggest producer most other Asian countries contribute to the trade.
Nest Cleaning and Sorting
Once the nests are collected they are meticulously cleaned. It is in purveyors interest to get the best possible price for their product so hygiene and attention to detail are foremost.
The nests come in a variety of colours based I would imagine on a combination of the species, the location and the dominant insect species being eaten.
Primarily there are white, yellow, red and golden nests. These vary in price from the relatively common white birds nests which currently sell for around $2000 per kilogram to the much rarer red nests which sell for up to $10,000 per kilogram.