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Bird's Nest Soup

Updated on June 29, 2012

Chinese Bird's Nest Soup

Bird's nest soup is a delicacy enjoyed in China for over 1000 years sought after for its medicinal and health benefits. Its main ingredient is not twigs, straws, leaves or mud, but made entirely out of the gummy saliva of the cave-dwelling Edible-nest swiftlet of the swift family found throughout Southeast Asia.

Once only reserved for emperors and nobility, bird's nest soup is now available in upscale Chinese restaurants for a handsome price. It is one of the most expensive animal product consumed by humans.

Bird's Nest Soup - one of my favorite soups

It is nutritious and delicious

The notion of dining on bird's nest soup may raise eyebrows or turn off the uninitiated palates. It may be classified as weird, gross and bizarre food. But I like it.

Bird's nest soup is high in protein, smooths the skin due to its restorative properties, promotes longevity, boosts the immune system, aids digestion, and raises the libido.

I was not aware of all these nutritional claims when our families were served this expensive delicacy at banquets and on special occasions. I just assumed it was another descriptive name of a Chinese dish, like Singing Crispy Rice or Mandarin Three Delights. It was only recently that I discovered that bird's nest soup was not just a fancy name but was actually made of a real bird's nest spun out of the swiftlet's gelatinous saliva. Did I get grossed out? No. Because I have eaten escargot, beef's tongue, and other foods that belong to the weird or bizarre category.

All I can say is that bird's nest soup is delicious and a health tonic because after a bowl of this, I feel energized--especially when it was prepared by my mother.

Swiftlets call this home - Dark and humid limestone caves

El Nido in the island of Palawan, Philippines is home to another edible-nest Swiftlet (Collocalia fuciphaga). El Nido is the Spanish word for "The Bird's Nest" referring to edible nest of the cave Swiftlets which abound in this beautiful island.The nests of these birds are built in the dark recesses of limestone caves and are the key ingredient of the health-enhancing bird's nest soup. Hence, the bird's nest soup is also known as Nido soup in the Philippines.

El Nido limestone caves

El Nido limestone caves
El Nido limestone caves

Risky occupation for local swiftlet harvesters

But a lucrative business

Photo Credit: Gill'sphotos

The Viking Cave is a shallow cave at sea level that is filled with edible swiftlet bird's nests in Koh Phi Phi Le in Southern Thailand. The Viking Cave (Rock of Phrayanaga) got its name from the prehistoric paintings of sea vessels or "coffin ships" on the cave walls resembling Viking ships.

The Great Cave in Niah National Park, in Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo is also home to the edible-nest swiftlets. Local collectors of the nest will risk life and limbs to gather these difficult to get and expensive delicacy for the Chinese bird's nest soup. Rattan ladders and ropes are constructed to make these perilous climbs into the caves with no safety nets. Tourists also flock to the Niah caves to see the 1200-year old rock paintings drawn with red haematite.

News Flash

Housing Boom in Borneo: If you are a bird

Edible-nest Cave Swiftlet in nest - Gomantong Caves, Borneo

This is an intricately woven bird's nest made by the male swiftlet in a span of 35 days. It is made of its gummy saliva which hardens when exposed to air and is attached on the flat side of a cave wall. The nest measures approximately 3 inches and resembles a miniature light sconce,

How do swiftlets find their way around in the dark caves?

Swiftlets and Echolocation - Nature's radar technology

Swiftlets, like bats, use echologation to navigate in total darkness using echolocation. But unlike bats, the swifltets use clicking sounds (single and double) which send out sound waves to hit obtacles and produce echoes back to the birds' ears. The swifltets can determine the distance, texture, shape, size of the surrounding objects, to avoid collisions, and find the location of their roosts and food. It is also a way of communicating to other birds or bats to get out of the way.

Listen to the swiftlets' clicking sounds.

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The edible-nest swiftlets have built their nests outside of a hotel in Melaka, Malaysia. The nest are built entirely out a mucilaginous excretion from the swiflet's salivary glands. It takes 35 days for the male swiflet to complete a nest.

House of Bird's Nests - A win-win situation for entrepeneurs and swiftlets

The skyrocketing prices and high demand for the edible Swiftlet nests has created a construction boom of concrete bird farms for the cave-dwelling birds. Swiftlet hotels or bird's nest farms have sprouted and turned Kumai, a small town in Borneo, Indonesia into a bird's nest soup factory town. The uniformly spaced matrix of wooden rafters replaced the nook and crannies of the dark and dank limestone caves. The internal humidity, darkness and sound are carefully monitored with electronic devices to mimic the limestone caves. Amplified recordings of the swiftlets' calls are played to attract the birds into the giant bird houses.

Bird's Nest Farms - Replacing the caves

The population of swifltets have declined due to over-harvesting of the nest in the limestone caves. Entrepeneurs, as well as, local government have created alternative ways to harvest more nests by building concrete birdhouses for swiftlets to nest in. These swiftlet hotels or dormitories look like guard houses or outposts with timy windows for the birds to enter and exit. Thousands of birds fly in at night and leave at the break of dawn.

Indonesia is the largest supplier of bird's nests in the world. Swiftlet farming is a multi-million dollar industry that floruishes in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines. Although some of the locals still prefer to do harvest the nests in the caves the dangerous way.

See pictures of Swiftlet Farms of Thailand

RFID technology thwarts bird's nest counterfeiters

How the edible swiftlet's bird's nest is processed - Tedious but extremely lucrative assembly line

Bird's nest processing plants take great care and time in cleaning and removing debris from the edible swiftlets nests. It is a manual process and workers have to eyeball and extract the debris with tweezers for hours on end. The nests are then treated with cleansing chemicals and a heating process to kill bacteria.

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Expensive delicacies on display

Worth their weight in gold

Jars filled with dried edible swiflet's nests for bird's nest soup are displayed in an Chinatown herb shop in San Francisco, California. Depending on the quality of the bird's nests, the price tags range from $2,616.00/lb -$3,000.00/lb.

Uncooked bird's nest resembles gelatin

Strands of bird's nest are boiled for a couple of hours and cleaned. The resulting gelatinous stringy nest look like translucent noodles. By itself, bird's nest is bland and tasteless. It is usually added to chicken broth with other ingredients, like ham, corn, mushroom with a beaten egg added.

Every country in Southeast Asia has its own version of the bird's nest soup.

Bird's nest soup is nido soup

What's in a name?

Bird's nest soup is called Nido soup in the Philippines, named after El Nido in the island of Palawan where the swiftlet's nests are found. This variation is cooked in chicken broth, with carrots, green peas, sweet corn, and chicken meat. The dish almost taste like Chinese Velvet Chicken soup with the texture of the translucent bird's nest added in.

Sweet bird's nest soup dessert

Served at the end of a meal

Strands of bird's nest are boiled for an hour or two and then boiled again with rock sugar to create the sweet dessert.

Casualties, corruption, scandal

Bird's Nest Soup: Savory Delicacy or Gourmet Cruelty?

Can you stomach bird's nest soup? - Let me know what your thoughts are on this delicacy

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    • beaworkathomemom profile image

      beaworkathomemom 5 years ago

      It's delicious but not something that I would eat all the time.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      All I can say is, I learn something new everyday. I have never heard of Bird's Nest soup before.

    • MJsConsignments profile image

      Michelle 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      Definitely a weird, unique lens! Squid Angel blessed!

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      I have actually had traditional birds nest soup once and it was delicious and quite a surprise - I enjoyed it very much--Nice lens :>)

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      I must admit I probably wouldn't fancy it but truly it's just because I know what it is. I eat escargots, beef tongue, frogs legs perfectly happily, so why not bird's nest soup?

    • Beadsnresin profile image

      Beadsnresin 5 years ago

      Learn something new every day, thanks for the lens, very detailed.

    • profile image

      anilsaini 5 years ago

      very interesting lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love bird/s nest soup. It's delicious and energizing. I cook it as a special dish for my family during family reunions

    • Dianna206 profile image

      Dianna206 5 years ago

      You came at this lens at all different angles! All about the birds, how they live, the way people make the soup. I think you included everything anyone would want to know about this subject. I still think it sounds gross to eat but hey, to each their own, right?

    • glenbrook profile image

      glenbrook 5 years ago

      I don't think I'll be trying it (or fish head soup for that matter). You did an awesome job with the lens though:)