A Chinese Delicacy Straight From the Swiftlet’s Mouth
Scan the menu at some of China’s more expensive restaurants, and you’re likely to come across bird’s nest soup. According to traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, the soup provides a boost to the immune system, smooths the skin and acts as an aphrodisiac, which may be why the dish can sell for thousands of dollars.
It requires a special kind of nest, made by a particular species of swiftlet, a tropical bird mostly found in Southeast Asia. And guess what this bird uses to build its nest? Not twigs, leaves or even feathers, but its own saliva.
Yes, gobs of spit make this dish one of the most expensive in the world.
Many of the nests come from the Philippine island of Palawan, a tropical paradise often used as a filming location for action movies like “The Bourne Legacy.” The swiftlets build nests in the crevices of the island’s limestone cliffs, where harvesters have been collecting them for centuries to sell to Chinese traders; the best were once eaten by emperors. The nests are dry when harvested, but turn jellylike in the soup, which is usually sprinkled with rock sugar.
很多燕窝来自菲律宾的巴拉望岛，一个热带度假胜地，经常有动作电影到那里取景拍摄，比如《谍影重重》(The Bourne Legacy)。金丝燕在该岛的石灰石悬崖上筑巢，数百年来，一直有人在悬崖的缝隙中采集燕窝，卖给中国商人；品质最好的燕窝曾经是供皇帝享用的。燕窝在采集的时候是干的，但在汤中会成为胶状，通常会加入冰糖。
Scientists say the soup has some genuine nutritional value, beyond the calories burned from bragging about having slurped it down. The nests contain protein, carbohydrates and some fiber, though how exactly they smooth skin or bolster sexual vigor is unproved.
But on a larger scale, the delicacy is probably doing more harm than good. As with so many traditional Chinese cravings, like shark fin soup, elephant ivory or alcohol made from tiger bones, the growing demand for bird’s nest soup has spelled trouble for the birds: They are no match for the skilled harvesters who find and remove their nests, sometimes with chicks still in them. Swiftlet populations have fallen steeply in some regions, prompting conservation officials to look for ways to protect the species.