Everything about China and it's culture

Everything about China and it's culture

100 Year-old Eggs

Most westerners expect to find sweet and sour pork, green tea and sesame chicken on the standard Chinese menu, but what they might be surprised to see are the “100 year-old eggs.”  Also referred to as the 1000-year-old egg or a preserved egg, the typical century old egg is usually no more than three or four months old and can be found at almost any restaurant or grocery store in most Chinese cities. 

A century egg may look like a normal egg at first glance, but it is actually quite different.  When the shell of a preserved egg is removed, the “white” of the egg is dark brown in color and has a similar texture to a boiled egg; the yoke is no longer yellow, but an array of green, blue and black.  The egg can be eaten as a quick snack, or it can be cut into slices and served along side other dishes as part of the entire meal.  The “white” of the egg has very little taste, but the yoke has a "rich, pungent and almost cheese-like" flavor.  The egg can also be cut into cubes and cooked to make a type of rice porridge; this dish is so popular in parts of China that even McDonalds has started to carry their own variation of it. 

There are two ways to make a 100 year-old egg, or “pidan” in pinyin.  The traditional way uses duck or chicken eggs and coats them with a clay-like mixture of charcoal, salt, lime, wood ash, and black tea.  Each egg is individually rolled in rice chaff to keep them from sticking together and then placed into large jars or baskets.  They are stored in a cool dry place for three to four months and when the wait is complete, they are ready to be eaten.

The more modern way to create century old eggs cuts the waiting time by almost half, although egg connoisseurs claim this method draws away from the traditional flavor.  Modern chemistry reveals that soaking the eggs in a mixture of lye and salt for 10 days and then aging the eggs for several weeks will give a similar result as the traditional method.

As for the history of the eggs, they are said to have originated during the Ming Dynasty in the Zhejiang Province by a teahouse owner who made the first ones by mistake.  The busy teahouse owner would empty the unfinished tea and stove ashes into a pile near his teahouse; later he discovered that ducks had been laying their eggs there.  When he collected the eggs, he discovered the blackish creation, and decided to sample it.  Finding a tasty treat, he then began to sell the eggs.  Although it’s a great tale, another more likely theory is that the eggs began to be preserved in times of plenty when villagers were expecting food supplies to run low in the coming months. 

Although the eggs may not look attractive to a westerner, they are very popular in China, and can be considered a delicacy in many non-Asian countries.

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