A Helpful Bird Offers us Its Home

The salangane, or Collocalia sp, belongs to Apodidiae family and in Vietnam lives mainly on islands, especially Cham Island in the central province of Quang Nam and on Yen Islet off the coast of Khanh Hoa province’s Nha Trang City. Salangane’s nests have long been used as a precious pharmaceutical material and as a specialty dish.

As the birds build their nests on high cliffs, it is difficult, even dangerous, to collect them. Salanganes build their nests every year as their home and for their young. The nests are made of the birds’ saliva. The birds fly out to feed during daytime and return home in the evening to build their nests on high cliffs in large caverns on islands. The nests are collected periodically so that the birds have to build others for reproduction. There are three kinds of salangane’s nests:

            The bird’s nest with feather is the first nest of the reproduction season. It is hard and crisp and has many small feathers.

            The white bird’s nest is the second nest the bird builds after the first one has been collected. It is white and half transparent.

            A bloody bird’s nest is the rarest and thus the most precious. It has blood red fibers that are believed to come from the saliva and blood of the salangane.

A salangane’s nest is often 50% protein, 30.5% glycoside and 6.19% ash. The protein in the bird’s nest has all the essential amino acids such as histidine (2.7%), arginine (2.7%), cystine (2.4%), tryptophan (1.4%) and tyrosine (5.6%). The ash has phosphor, iron, potassium and calcium.

The salangane’s nest is sweet and good for the lungs and stomach. It is used as nutritional food for those suffering from weakness, tiredness, sleeplessness, and yellow skin, loss of appetite and weight, and bad temper due to smoking or drinking a lot. The nest can also boost the resistance and immune systems of the body, and protect and beautify the skin. It is also mixed with ginseng, licorice, honey and other medicinal herbs to boost energy and cell production, and prevent aging.

Long ago, the salangane’s nest was considered the first of the eight special dishes, which included sea cucumbers, abalone and bear’s limbs, served to kings and nobility. Few could afford the bird’s nest due to its high prices. The simplest and most popular dish with salangane’s nest is to steam it with sugar candy. Soak the bird’s nests in warm water for an hour and pick out all the feathers. Wash the nests again and steam them with sugar candy until all turn into a sweet soup. The bird’s nest is also used in many more sophisticated but equally nutritious dishes.