I was in Chinatown in Bangkok, Thailand recently with some Thai friends with the aim of eating bird’s nest soup. Never having eaten bird’s nest soup before, and Bangkok being one of the best places in the world to get it, my friends spent much time telling me what it tastes like, which soup is better and where to buy it. So, when I tried my first bowl of bird’s nest soup, I already knew a lot about it.
After one bowl of bird’s nest soup, I’d already decided I’d never be eating it again. Thick, sweet and quite tasteless, it thickens slightly as it cools and is, quite frankly, a bit pointless. But, if you’re a bird’s nest soup lover or simply want to have that first try, here’s how and where to buy bird’s nest soup in Bangkok.
What Is Bird’s Nest Soup – Bird’s nest soup is a slightly sticky hot soup that is made out of the nests of a particular type of Chinese swift. The swift makes its nest by regurgitating spit, and winding it around and around until it hardens and forms a nest. The nests are harvested, and then dissolved in water to form a soup.
Staff at the restaurants that make bird’s nest soup then spend time picking out all the impurities from the bird’s nests, before the nests are actually cooked – a long and laborious job, I might add.
You can get sweet soup or salty, depending on your taste and if you want it as part of a meal or as a dessert.
Medical Claims of Bird’s Nest Soup – Most of my friends in Bangkok are Chinese-Thai, which means, even though born and raised in Thailand, they still have traditional Chinese values when it comes to most things – food included. So, like many Chinese, my friends also believe in the so-called medicinal claims of bird’s nest soup – as an aphrodisiac, improving the immune system and to help your digestion – none of which I needed.
The nests do, however, have high levels of some minerals, so it does have some nutritional value.
Prices of Bird’s Nest Soup in Bangkok – If you want to buy bird’s nest soup, one of the best places to buy it is in Bangkok. As many of the swifts that make the nests are from areas of southern Thailand, the cost of bird’s nest soup in Thailand is far cheaper than the US or Europe. At the restaurant we ate at, a bowl of soup started out at around $8 for the low quality soup and up to $70 for extremely high quality.
We chose the mid-range at $20 a bowl and, as we were eating it for dessert, three of us shared the large bowl of soup – spooning it into small dessert bowls before eating. Quality varies widely, and my friends told me never to buy the cheap soup, as the quality was poor, thus negating any of the possible medicinal qualities.
Where Not to Buy Bird’s Nest Soup in Bangkok – There are many Chinese restaurants in Bangkok to buy the soup, but Chinatown (known as Yaworat, by the Thais) is obviously the best place. Many restaurants sell it, and it’s usually a little cheaper in Chinatown than other places in Bangkok.
Apart from the restaurants, you will also see many street carts selling the soup. With plastic chairs and tables set up around the cart, you can buy soup for as little as 100 baht (around $3). But, as my friends warned me, most of the ‘soup’ at the street carts is actually fake bird’s nest soup and not worth spending the money on.
Where to Buy Bird’s Nest Soup in Bangkok – Many of the Chinese restaurants in Bangkok sell bird’s nest soup, as well as some five-star hotels, who cater to the hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists to Thailand each year. Liu, at the Conrad Hotel, sells bird’s nest soup, as does Yuan at the Millenium Hilton and Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Of course, at the hotels, the price is two to three times what you’ll find at a restaurant in Chinatown and, my Thai friends tell me, does not always taste as good.
In Chinatown, finding bird’s nest soup is as simple as walking down any main street and trying one of the many restaurants that sell it. You’ll know them by the boxes of bird’s nests you can often see stacked up on the shelves. Like I said, if you want the authentic, just don’t buy it at one of the many street stalls.
Quality of Bird’s Nest Soup – When you arrive at the restaurant, you will be given a menu with choices of soup – sweet or savory, and lower quality, mid-range and high-quality. With prices from $8 up to $80 a bowl or more, choose wisely as, if you don’t like it, it’s a waste of a fair amount of money.
For the dessert soup, we found one bowl was enough for 3-4 people, as it also comes with a small bowl of fruit in syrup. This is often to make it taste better than it does as, to me, it was nothing more than tasteless with an extremely slight sweet after-taste.
Don’t get me started on the environmental costs of bird’s nest soup. By myself, I would never have chosen to eat it but, with Thai friends who had just bought me a very expensive dinner, in Thai culture it would have been rude to refuse to try, so I (not literally) held my nose, and did so.
I wouldn’t waste time or money on eating bird’s nest soup again, but you might feel differently. So, if the environmental factors (destroying birds’ nests and habitats, depletion of the bird species etc), doesn’t bother you, go ahead.
I did however draw the line at the Shark’s Fin Soup, which they wanted me to try the next time. That’s nothing more than senseless butchering, and I won’t have any part of it.