Forget the ‘eewww’ factor and what have you got? A kilo of pure, gooey avian saliva worth two roundtrip tickets to the US. LYNETTE LEE CORPORAL gives the skinny about this Asian delicacy.
WHAT IS IT?
Bird’s nest is pure saliva regurgitated by male swiftlets (Aerodramus fuciphagus), or ‘balinsasayaw’ in local parlance, to build nests in crevices of steep rock cliffs. These long, translucent, interwoven gelatinous strands come in half-cup shaped nests (locally known as luray) that are cleaned, double-boiled and mixed with chicken broth, and served on dining tables and medicinal shops in Hong Kong and other Asian countries.
HOW MUCH IS IT?
A kilogram of bird’s nest fetches a steep HK$2,000 (Php11,230) In Hong Kong, a bowl costs from HK$30-100 (Php168 to Php562) depending on the quality As of 2004, the estimated market of bird’s nest in Hong Kong reached up to HK$3 billion, making Hong Kong the world’s largest consumer of bird’s nest. A local gatherer earns an average of Php800-1,200 per ounce of bird’s nest. The nests are sold to Manila-based middlemen, and shipped to buyers from Hong Kong and China.
WHY IS IT IN DEMAND?
The Chinese have been consuming bird’s nest for more than a millennia. Traditionally double-boiled in rock sugar, the soup is believed to have numerous health benefits from boosting the immune system to slowing down the aging process.
PERILS OF HARVESTING
The Tagbanua, an indigenous group who are known bird’s nest gatherers, would put Spiderman and professional rock climbers to shame with their skillful maneuvers climbing up 600-meter high rock cliffs. Also known as “busyador” they use their bare feet and hands and, for some, bamboo poles and ropes to build a crude scaffolding to reach crevices, literally hanging on for dear life. Once up there, they enter tiny holes in the limestone rock cliff and, armed with flashlights or headlights, carefully scan and gather handfuls of nests attached to the steep rock face. These nests are carefully placed in woven baskets usually tied around the busyador’s waist or carried over their shoulders. Needless to say, I ives have been lost just to get a hold of this delicacy.