Bird's nest soup is a Chinese delicacy made from the fragile nests of swifts. "The main ingredient is bird saliva," says gourmaniac, and the nests are very expensive, in part because they must be hand-collected from nesting sites and picked over to remove impurities. kobuta has seen unappetizing bits of feather, twigs, and "lord knows what else" in bird's nests, which is why they must be soaked and washed before being used in soup or other dishes.
Bird's nest is consumed primarily for the health claims attributed to it, says Crazy Egg. "My mom would buy whole bird's nest and cook it in a crockpot with water, rock sugar and a little ginger," Crazy Egg says. gourmaniac also had bird's nest as a child. "It was rehydrated and slightly picked over again and added to a broth made from a freshly killed chicken," says gourmaniac.
Since bird's nest is valued as a health food, don't expect a flavor explosion. Like shark fin, bird's nest is basically tasteless, says kobuta. If you must cross it off your list, you can find it prepared in bottles of sugared water in Chinatown, says Crazy Egg; look for an off-white color without dark bits, and make sure the nests are in large pieces, rather than small. Bird's nests will usually be kept behind the counter with other expensive ingredients like shark fin and abalone, gourmaniac says. However, kobuta says, "[w]hat you find in the canned drinks or soups is likely the low grade stuff (if you find any at all) so not sure you'll get a real bird's nest experience from that."
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