Bird’s Nest Soup – A Once in a Lifetime Lunch

It’s not every day that you come across bird spit soup on a menu, so when we saw it featured at the Palazzo’s Asian restaurant, Zine, in Vegas, we had no choice but to order it. The lychee martinis may have had something to do with our decision, after all, the soup cost $128 a bowl and no sober person that I know of would spend that kind of money on a bowl of soup.

This soup, actually known as Bird’s Nest Soup, is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and has been ingested there and in various parts of Southeast Asia for centuries. Quick research indicates anywhere from the past 400 to 1500 years.  In some countries the nests (built by swifts) are harvested by cliff-scaling pickers and are only taken after the eggs have hatched and the young have flown. Typically, it takes 35 days for the swift to use its spittle to wind and weave an intricate basket about the size of a human fist.

White Birds Nest
photo credit: http://www.luxist.com/gallery/birds-nest-soup/1323980/

These days the nests are more commonly harvested from purpose-built nest houses. White nests can sell for up to $2,000 USD per kilo, but the red nests (the pigment is due to minerals found in the caves) from Thailand can have a price tag of up to $10,000 USD/kilo. At Zine, the soup alone cost around $90 for the bowl but with the papaya, the price increased to $128. That’s one heck of an expensive papaya if you ask me. Vegas. Go figure.

Why do people eat this stuff? The saliva is rich in nutrients and according to Chinese medicinal claims, eating said saliva will improve all sorts of ailments–from dull complexions to dull libido, and everything in between.

So what does bird spit taste like? Hard to say as what we mostly tasted was the papaya. But I can tell you this, bird spit has a texture like…spit. Strings of spit. Sort of like slimy glass noodles–which is what you will need to tell your brain as you spoon the saliva strings into your mouth: “Glass noodles. I’m eating glass noodles.” And then wash them down with another martini.

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Author: Twyla Campbell

World-wide wanderer, CBC Edmonton AM Restaurant Reviewer, Member of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, oenophile, epicurean explorer and a freelance writer whose works have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including More, Above & Beyond, Avenue (Edmonton), Up Here, Northern Flyer, Opulence, City Palate, the Edible Prairie Journal, The Edmonton Journal, Slow Food Canada, Lifestyle Alberta, and on Slow Food Edmonton’s website. Grant MacEwan University (Professional Writing Program) Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree (in progress). I’m a Tweeter @wanderwoman10

2 thoughts on “Bird’s Nest Soup – A Once in a Lifetime Lunch

  1. There is a documentary – maybe a bit on youtube about this soup and either Anthony b or what’s his name in the Hell’s Kitchen (can’t think of his name right now – Ramsey) It was incredibly interesting as apparently harvesting the nests for this soup is quite the sad story… and it doesn’t taste goo – just as you said!
    Sounds like another martini was in order to get it down!
    🙂 V

  2. The harvesting: from what I read, adults build approx 3 nests per year. It takes them 35 days to build them and the nests are harvested only after the young have flown away. Apparently nest-houses are more common now – buildings built for the swifts to build these nests which means people don’t have to scale the cliffs and the birds natural environment is not impacted. (From what I read, anyways. Who knows.)

    I would never go out of my way to eat this again. 1) because of the cost 2) because of the involvement of man vs bird habitat 3) the taste.

    I’ve eaten some strange stuff in my life but this one rates at the top of the list…right next to the mopani worms (large moth caterpillars).

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