Nests Good Enough to Eat

Photo by Mark Godfrey

Eating exotic foods can be thrilling and repulsive, and the experience can leave a wonderful or unpleasant taste in your mouth.

“Around the globe, delicacies are highly prized for their delicious flavors and supposed ability to, say, increase libido or improve memory,” I wrote for Audubon three years ago. For the story, I spoke with Massimo Marcone, a food scientist at Ontario’s University of Guelph and author of In Bad Taste, a book about odd delicacies the world over. “Decadence has to be tempered with being responsible,” he said.

For swiflets in Malaysia, cave-dwelling birds that make nests from dried saliva that people use in soup, the effort to get these nests “has been absolutely devastating,” Joseph Hobbs, a geography professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and an expert on edible nests in Malaysia, told Audubon a few years ago. “People are literally climbing over themselves,” he said, “because the nests are so valuable now.”

Bird’s nest soup—and other foodstuffs made from the efforts or body parts of threatened species—is not usually found on most menus. If those items were, most conservationists probably wouldn’t eat them anyway. Yet there is a way to eat nests without endangering any birds: Make them from chow mein noodles and butterscotch chips.

Ellen Lambeth of The National Wildlife Federation writes that you only need a few ingredients for this delicious treat:

One 12-oz. package of butterscotch or peanut butter baking chips
One 5-oz. can of chow mein noodles
Blue jelly beans or Jordan almonds
Two cookie sheets
Wax paper
Saucepan and spoon

1. Stir baking chips in a pan over low heat until melted and smooth.
2. Stir in noodles until completely covered.
3. Plop 8 to 10 spoonfuls of mixture onto cookie sheets covered with wax paper.
4. Shape each spoonful into a cup-shaped nest.
5. Put in the refrigerator to chill.
6. Add several candy "eggs" to each edible nest.

There are other options, too, when it comes to making nest-like cuisine, like birds’ nest pastries, also called Kadaif, which are sweet and made with butter and cheese. (Check out this recipe from Eating Well.) Sugar and spice sounds tasty--and better than spit. 

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