Travelling through the mountains of Borneo, we made a stop at Gomantong Cave, known for its ancient Bird’s Nest harvesting. A delicacy in this part of the world is Bird’s Nest Soup.
Inside the Cave
The first half-kilometre into the cave is a beautiful forest.
Not only is this magnificent cave full of the priceless bird’s nests of the Swiftlet bird, it is also full of bird poop, bats and cockroaches! There were actually piles of bat dung 8-10 feet high, and the walkway was 3 feet off the ground. Not my favourite cave.
David Tseu, our guide, took some gorgeous photos inside the cave and you’d never guess at first glance that there were even birds and bird’s nests inside it, let alone the other little creatures.
This is the Swiftlet Bird, the bird who makes the nests used to make Bird’s Nest Soup.
What Is Bird’s Nest Soup?
Bird’s Nest Soup is made from real birds’ nests. Guess what the birds’ nests are made of? Saliva. The nests are made with the saliva of the Swiftlet bird – yes, bird spit!
If you think it must be full of twigs and leaves as we did, you would be mistaken. The saliva of the bird dries and hardens when exposed to air, which is what forms the nest.
Apparently Bird’s Nest Soup not only has an exquisite flavour and has superior nutritional value, but also provides medicinal benefits such as improving digestion, increasing immunity and increasing sex drive.
The Most Expensive Soup in the World
Because the nests are so rare, they are highly coveted in Chinese culture.
Birds’ Nests are the most expensive animal product in the world. We saw them at a shop in the airport, and just for fun I checked the price: one nest was $2000 U.S. A bowl of Bird’s Nest Soup costs up to $100 U.S!
White nests are worth double that of black nests, and red nests are even more rare. Because it is so expensive, many people call Birds’ Nests Soup “Eastern Caviar”.
Guarding the Birds’ Nests
Even more surprising was how the birds’ nests are guarded. Because of the high value of the bird’s nests, guards live in huts inside the cave for 4 months at a time to guard the nests. The outside gates of the reserve are also locked at night.
The guards get sick from the dust, bird dung and bat dung. The cave is also full of cockroaches. This must be the worst job in the world.
To harvest the nests, men must climb 150 meters up a rope and bamboo climbing apparatus, and they do this four times a year. A sample was posted in the display room outside the cave.
The process of harvesting the nests is extremely dangerous. The nest collector usually uses a narrow, shaky and long rope/bamboo ladder which they climb on top of to reach the nests at the top of the caves. Many nest collectors have lost their lives doing this.
Staff receive 1500 Malaysian Rupees a month which is about 540 Canadian dollars a month, and an extra 1 rupee a day when they work in the cave.
Big Companies Own the Nests
There are plots in the caves which are owned by different companies who hire the guards to watch for theft and do the harvest as well.
S.E. Asia ships the raw edible nests primarily to China and the U.S, but they are used all over the world.
Recipe for Bird’s Nest Soup
To prepare for soup, the birds’ nests are soaked in water overnight and cleaned, then dropped into fresh chicken broth with chicken meat, ginger root and straw mushrooms. The soup is often topped with Goji Berries. The result is a flavourful jelly-like soup.
Some people mix it with sugar and warm milk for a dessert soup.
How To Be Healthy and Horny
So guess what – if you want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, healthy and horny, get yourself some Birds’ Nest Soup!
It’s been working for the Chinese since 500 A.D.
Would you try Bird’s Nest Soup?