Edible Birds’ Nest

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Gomantong Cave and mentioned that people harvested edible birds’ nests. Many of you asked me how they prepared them and at the time I didn’t know. This weekend I received a gift from my friends that we visited in Malaysia. They sent a book titled, Malaysia at Random: Facts, Figures, Quotes, and Anecdotes on Malaysia. I love these kinds of books since I love quirky facts. You’d think I would be better at trivia, but unfortunately my memory isn’t the great.

Anyhoos, while browsing through the book I saw a section on how to process a premium-grade black birds’ nest.

One of the nests from the cave.

One of the nests from the cave.

  1. Soak the nest in water for 12 to 48 hours.
  2. Using a pair of tweezers, separate the feathers from the nest.
  3. To remove fine and deeply embedded feathers, swirl the nest in a circular container containing a few drops of vegetable oil.
  4. Rearrange the meaty portions of the nest into a diamond-shaped mould.
  5. Allow the moist birds’ nest chips to dry.

It’s my understanding that the most popular way to eat them is in a soup. Unfortunately the book doesn’t supply a soup recipe but it did have a story about two burglars who broke into a building that they thought was used for breeding swiftlets, the ones who make the edible nests. Instead they broke into the wrong building and they were arrested for breaking and entering a bank. Oops!

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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72 Responses to Edible Birds’ Nest

  1. Embedded feathers. Urgh. It doesn’t help that I’m in the middle of writing an article about the consumption of insects…
    I think lunch is off for today.

  2. Ya, I think I’m going to pass on this little snack if you don’t mind. Yucky!! 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I don’t even like feather pillows since occasionally a feather pops out. Oh, and I am allergic.

      • Ya, me too. I can remember when I was a kid and we went to a hotel. The pillows were usually feather, and we always had to ask them for a non-allergenic pillow for me. By the way, I read the new Neil Gaiman book over the weekend, and all I can say is WOW! It’s going to be one of those books that I want to read over again for sure! He is an incredibly gifted author!

  3. poppytump says:

    TBM .. no really … I think I shall pass on this . Thanks all the same 😉

  4. Frank says:

    Thanks for the offer … but I think I’ll pass.

  5. MissFourEyes says:

    I’ve never heard of edible birds’ nests. Any good?

    • TBM says:

      Many people love it. As for me, after visiting the cave and seeing all the cockroaches and bat poop, I opted not to. Guess I’m too squeamish.

  6. Beth Ann says:

    I may have to pass on this delicacy also……I am sure it is delightful but all I can think of is how the missed feathers would tickle on the way down…

  7. adinparadise says:

    Righty-ho……..I’m off to look for a couple empty birds nests this afternoon, so that we can have delicious soup tonight. 😀 Thanks for the tips.

  8. Novroz says:

    It was said that the nest was made of the bird’s saliva and that’s where the magic came 😉
    I Haven tried the soup yet…Like I said before, it’s expensive. I saw a news once, people breed the bird in a building now, but the nest looked a bit different in a building, it looks cleaner

    • TBM says:

      The cave I was in had a bunch of cockroaches and other insects so I’m assuming the ones made in buildings are cleaner. From what I read, the nests are a delicacy. But you are right, very pricey!

      • Novroz says:

        It looks whiter. I saw a real one when my father tried to help his friend selling it. Not as black as the one in your photo.

      • TBM says:

        If I remember correctly, there are black and white ones. I can’t remember which is worth more or tastier. They only had this one for an example on our tour.

  9. restlessjo says:

    Gross! I wouldn’t waste good wine washing it down. 🙂

  10. bulldog says:

    I don’t care if they make it in a soup, a meal or for that matter if they smoke it…. they can keep it…

  11. FictionFan says:

    It wasn’t the feathers that made me shudder…it was the ‘meaty portions’ – Yeuchh!

    There’s good descriptions of the caves and the nest harvesting in Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists.

    • TBM says:

      I read that book and that was the first time I heard of them. I was so excited to see the caves where they get birds’ nest–until I saw all the cockroaches and poop.

  12. Caroline says:

    Why does that sooo NOT tempt me…

    • TBM says:

      I was tempted before I arrived in Malaysia. The description in the Garden of Evening Mists sounded so much better. Then I visited the caves and I was turned off for good.

  13. elisaruland says:

    This is really quite interesting, although not so appetizing!

  14. frizztext says:

    maybe I would prefer to break into a bank instead into a store with bird nests….

  15. rjschutte says:

    I really cannot imagine there are “meaty parts” in such a nest, besides the baby birds which did not survive. I am 100% sure I will pass, if this is on the menu 🙂

    • TBM says:

      I know at the caves they do wait for the birds, including the babies, to stop using the nests before they harvest them. I wasn’t sure what the meaty parts referred to though.

  16. Very interesting….although I don’t think I will be making bird’s nest soup anytime soon…:)

  17. Letizia says:

    This is fascinating! I love that you provided the recipe 😉

  18. lynnsbooks says:

    Yeah, well this is on a need to know basis and I definitely do not need to know! On the other hand what does intrigue me is the original thought that went into coming up with the notion of bird’s nest for tea! Like, ‘I’m a bit peckish and that nests look damn fine!’ Or maybe somebody got stuck in a cave and after days of starvation the nests looked preferable to the cockroaches and poop? So, there’s the big question…. (of course I’ve never tried this and so it could actually be delicious).
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      Many think it is yummy and pay a hefty price for it. And I also wonder who first tried it and came up with the idea to pull all of the feathers out. That’s a lot of work.

  19. When I was in Japan and Vietnam I saw bird’s nest “tea” being sold in cans! I didn’t try it…

  20. Oh no, oh no, oh no. . . .

  21. Vishy says:

    This is quite interesting, TBM. Though I can’t imagine how birds’ nests would be edible. When I was in China I saw silkworm pupa being served as a delicacy in restaurants (I didn’t try). Now I think the most exotic food is birds’ nests. I don’t think I will try it though.

  22. You see…I just knew you’d give us an amazing recipe if we waited long enough 🙂

  23. The Guat says:

    Breaking and entering HA! That cracked me up. Maybe while hanging out in jail they’ll have some nest soup.

    • TBM says:

      That would be funny. How do you not know your breaking into a bank? I haven’t been inside a bank in Malaysia, but I think I would know if I was in one.

  24. nrlymrtl says:

    Interesting. So of course I wanted to know what swiftlets made their nests out of, as this is important – birds use a variety of things to make nests: mud, straw, hair, grass, garbage, spit, poo, etc.

    So, this is from Wikipedia talking about both black and white swiftlets:
    The nests are composed of interwoven strands of salivary laminae cement. Both nests have high levels of calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.

    I’m not squeamish about food, but I would probably pass on this if there were other options and I could politely do so.

  25. Meghna N says:

    I read the title and thought it was a rather fancy name for a cupcake but when I read the post, I realized that you meant it literally!
    This is the most bizarre thing I’ve heard. I understand eating birds but birds’ nests, not sure.
    I wonder if I’ll have the courage to try it, though. It does make me curious!

  26. Fergiemoto says:

    Interesting, intriguing…but I don’t get the fascination with eating them. I’ll pass, thank you.

  27. i wondered about how they prepared them when i saw them in the Chinese market here. thanks for the enlightenment

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