Birds Nest at Chow Restaurant
Traditional Bird’s Nest Delicacy at Singapore’s Chow Restaurant
Chefs at Chow Restaurant are engaged in finding ways of reviving age old culinary traditions. To meet this objective, they have chosen to present the bird’s nest, which is a popular Cantonese delicacy also considered to have wide ranging and valuable medicinal and nutritional properties. Once exclusively consumed by the monarchs, statesmen and royalty, the bird’s nest dishes successfully combine centuries worth of lore and history. “We are hoping to revive customs and by introducing bird’s nest in our menu, we are eager to give our modern patrons a little chance at discovering a cultural heritage” says Lee Chong Xin, one of our head chefs.
Traditionally the nests were harvested from limestone caves in and around Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The Asian swiftlets commonly found in this region, known as ‘walet’ in Malay, would build their nests inside caves and skilled professional climbers would remove these nests in order to sell them. These days many of the nests can also be found on the undersides of bridges and pedestrian overpasses. Over the years, the trade has provided for as an occupation and livelihood for a substantial number of people. Today, special two storey buildings are constructed to house the swiftlets. The structures are covered entirely but for a few slits in the roof for the birds to move in and out. Top quality white coloured nests, also called ‘white gold’, are imported from such bird farms.
The nests are thoroughly tested at approved laboratories for any contamination of twigs, debris or limestone, before they even enter the kitchen at Chow’s. Known as the “The Caviar of the East” by serious enthusiasts, the birds’ nests are crescent shaped and temptingly translucent. They are finely knit in a cup-like shape and appear woven in fiberglass. With a very distinct and exotic egg like texture and taste and they are rich in protein. Some believe that those who regularly consume birds’ nests have clearer, more youthful looking skin, as the birds’ nests have a considerable anti-ageing effect. Traditional Chinese Medicine links their consumption with respiratory health, increased libido, and general longevity. Research has validated that the nests are rich in glycoprotein which help in strengthening the immune system.
Cooking Birds Nest
“There are several ways to cook the bird’s nest and we have explored many different recipes before deciding” the sous chef tells us. And what they have on their menu at Chow Restaurant is decidedly a blend of the authentic and the new. Try the ‘Bird’s Nest Soup’, for example, and here the bird’s nest is slowly cooked with a tempered flame and infused with spices. Rock sugar and ginger are added for wholesome flavour. The dish is garnished with Chinese almonds that are lightly roasted and then ground. The ‘Pandan flavoured Bird’s Nest’ can be enjoyed by everyone and especially those with a sweet tooth. “Pandan pairs really well with bird’s nest. We add a few slices of ginseng for a twist on the flavour. I had to pull out family recipes and read as far back as my great-grandmother to recreate this dish” says a beaming chef. And we can only agree that the fresh, delightful and delicious dessert is otherworldly.