As a boy, I tried a Chinese delicacy called bird nest soup. It was made from the dried saliva of swallows. My mother and other Chinese parents praised this soup to the sky, saying it had excellent health benefits. I dug up a recipe from a century-old cookbook.

Bird-nest has a hefty price tag.  It can sell up to $4,500 per pound.   My mother said people climb up dangerous cliffs to harvest this culinary treasure. I hope they made a nice commission for their troubles.


2 cups of bird-nest
1 piece of ginger
Primary soup (上湯)
6 teaspoons Chinese ham and chicken, diced
3 teaspoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper, to taste
Few drops of sesamum-seed oil

Bird-nest soup

(Instruction is mostly verbatim from “The Chinese Cook Book,” by Shiu Wong Chan of New York, 1917. Pages 19-20.)

NOTE: In every recipe given in this hook, the quantity stated is sufficient for six persons.

The substance of which this soup is made is found in bird nests. It is the saliva of the swallows of northern China. It looks somewhat like spinach. The best quality is pure white. The other quality is a little brown and contains some impurities of straw and feathers, which must be removed by shaking in water.

(a) Soak in cold water for one hour 2 cups of bird-nest. Then wash gently.

(b) Cook in water for 1 hour, with a piece of ginger.

(c) Strain off and put into 6 pints of primary soup. Let simmer for I/2 hour. Serve in bowls or soup-plates, and use 6 tea spoonfuls of Chinese ham and chicken dice for garnish. For gravy use 3 teaspoonfuls of cornstarch, a few drops of sesamum-seed oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Improve your love life?

Chinese people have been making bird-nest soup for more than 1,000 years. Live Science reports that some people believe the nests to have “high nutritional and medicinal value,” including increased concentration … and libido.

You can read “The Chinese Cook Book” at the Internet Archive. This website contains numerous historical cookbooks.

If bird-nest soup sounds nasty to you, try making shark fin soup or turtle soup from the same cookbook. Or you can read about how I was forced to drink snake gallbladder soup.