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Bird's Nest Soup
The Chinese have used the nests of White-nest Swifts and the Black-nest Swifts for hundreds of years as main ingredient in bird nest soup, also served as a sweet and also use them for medicine to aide in certain ailments such as alleviating asthma, raising libido, and overall benefits for the immune system.
The nests are usually built by the male during the breeding season over a period of 35 days. The nest when complete looks like a shallow cup stuck to the cave wall. This is where the swifts choose to nest- inside caves. The natural red cave nests are only found in limestone caves in Thailand. The male birds construct the nests from interwoven strands of salivary laminae cement. Both the red and the white nests have high levels of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The largest importers of the nests are the United States and Hong Kong. To purchase a bowl of bird's nest soup in Hong Kong it would cost you anywhere from $30- $100 American dollars. For a kilogram of white nest soup would cost $2000 American dollars. If you want a kilogram of Red nest soup it could cost you around $10,000 American dollars. Now that is what I call having expensive taste!
The Malaysian government had to come up with a way to try and fight against counterfeiters of nests. The counterfeiters were adding red color to white nests so they could charge the more expensive prices that are paid for red nests. The Malaysian government decided to get into RFID technology and have the nests micro-chipped with details about harvesting, packaging, and transport.
Originally the supplies of nests came mostly from caves at Niah and Gomantony of Borneo. But since the demands have increased for these nests man has stepped in by building- nest houses near the sea as this is where the birds tend to flock. Having these nest- houses has given work to many in Indonesian towns where they are located. The nests are mainly exported to Hong Kong and from there are dispersed elsewhere. China is the main or largest consumer of the nests.
Legend of Bird's Nest Soup
According to legend it was from caves at Gomantony were first taken to China and presented as a soup to an emperor of the T'any dynasty. Apparently the emperor didn't care for the taste of the soup or lack of taste which didn't impress him. When the word got back to the imperial cook he was in fear that he would loose his head because the emperor was displeased. He quickly came up with a story that the Borneo people believed the preparation was a strong aphrodiasiac and would also add longevity to ones life who consumed it. Lucky for the imperial cook the emperor swallowed his story and the soup from that day on started a cult that is still active in this day and age.
Indonesia's Nest Egg
With the business of harvesting the nests for those with expensive taste it has given Indonesia an economic boost; it is the biggest harvester of the nests in the world. Indonesians have designed buildings in which the birds nest on the top floors and people live on the bottom floors. In this set up this is what you might call a stay at home job. Harvesting the nests is helping the Indonesian people to be able to live a much better life.
It is not popular because of the way it tastes as it has been described as having a very blah taste. The real flavor of the bird's nest soup is more of a symbolic one in which it symbolizes decadence and wealth only afforded by the wealthy. This is not a soup that will be served in lower class establishments but rather the upper class establishments.
I personally would rather see them stuck on the walls of caves than floating around in my soup bowl. I would prefer to have crackers floating in my soup over a bird's nest. But to each their own tastes even if they are strange and expensive ones!