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: https://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.