Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.
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.
Vietnam Cave Swiftlet's
I love birds nest soup. It is rarely eaten on its own but rather added to other ingredients with chicken stock as a base. The texture of the soup is quite unlike anything else I have ever eaten. To be honest though I cannot afford it, but when offered never refuse.
Collecting Nests in Malaysia
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 18, 2010:
Thanks joel b. - I can actually see how it may possibly work as a cure for asthma....though it would only work for nests collected in your province.
joel b. on July 18, 2010:
I have enjoyed the benefits living in my province be able to eat birds nest that aided my health. we can purchase it here at P20,000 pesos phil. currency per kg., now my asthma is gone.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 10, 2010:
VivekSri - Thank you for reading. Life is largely about trying and experiencing new things. Providing we do no harm....go for it. Get the guts to try.
VivekSri on July 10, 2010:
Must be a good platter for the south east, have no guts for a hands on, any way learning new things from this post. Three cheers...
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 13, 2009:
travel_man1971 - Yes I have eaten nido soup a couple times in the Philippines. Taste tends to vary according to location....as does the price...but cheaper in the Philippines. I don't think I tried it in Palawan.
I recall the story of the basement swifts. Similar cases elsewhere with people actually moving out of their houses to allow swifts to move in.
Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on November 13, 2009:
If you happen to visit Philippines, we also have a version of bird's nest soup, the nido soup. The source comes from the cave-dwelling birds or the swiflets which are famous in Palawan. One family here in our province Camarines Sur (Bicol region) was featured in a local television show because of these birds that invaded their basement but continue giving them additional livelihood because of their nests.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on September 24, 2009:
seemorebangkok - you need to think of other things than mucous when you eat it ;-)
seemorebangkok from Bangkok, Thailand on September 24, 2009:
I tried bird's nest once at a friend's constant badgering to try and to me it tasted like slimy mucous. I really can't see why eating this stuff will make me healthy. I'll just stick to my beers and cigarettes =)
christine almaraz from colorado springs on February 13, 2009:
I saw this on Bizzare Foods and it looked like something a lot of people wouldn't eat. But the host said it was good. I guess you can't judge anything based on the looks of it. Interesting hub.