Century eggs: preserving pre-conceptions
Day one in China. I was hoping to eaaaaase my way into the cuisine, let my stomach adjust, let my bacteria start playing nice with Asian bacteria… It was not in the cards. Jump in and swim. I can only hope my delicate western digestive system is up to the challenge.
We sat down for an amazing spread of Northern traditional Chinese food. It was a wonderful experience, filled with new and exciting flavors for my palette, and a galaxy of colors for my eyes. Recently ( as in YESTERDAY) I moved to a beautiful city called Kai Fa Qu, on the outskirts of Dalian, located on the tip of a peninsula at the top of the Bo Hai sea in coastal China. Pickled vegetables, a fish dish with eggs, strange and vinaigared salads, and century eggs.
The friends I was dining with knew I was a foodie, and wanted to try some traditional foods, so they slipped in this delicacy, I think just as a “eat it, then we’ll tell you what it is.” The problem is, I had started doing research on century eggs, and I had the pre conceived notion that I would HATE them.
Perhaps from pictures I had seen, perhaps from the irrational pre-conceived notion that aging eggs must create foul smelling, rotten and DANGEROUS salmonella death balls. I pictured baluut, I pictured an alien and disgusting dish. After first eating my first chicken foot, I dived into the century eggs… and really enjoyed them.
What is a Century Egg?
Century egg (Chinese: 皮蛋; pinyin: pí dàn), also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg, is a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing.
Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green to grey colour, with a creamy consistency and an odor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, translucent jelly with little flavor. The transforming agent in the century egg is its alkaline material, which gradually raises the pH of the egg to around 9, 12, or more during the curing process. This chemical process breaks down some of the complex, flavorless proteins and fats, which produces a variety of smaller flavorful compounds. – Wiki
The origin of the method for creating century eggs likely came about through the need to preserve eggs in times of plenty by coating them in alkaline clay, which is similar to methods of egg preservation in some Western cultures. The clay hardens around the egg and resulted in the curing and creation of century eggs instead of spoiled eggs. It has been said that this style of preservation dates back over 600 years.
So, as my Asian Adventures begin, I am immediately faced with confronting my pre-conceptions of what food should be, and what food is. I had actually put “century eggs” in the que of topics to write about on FoodOddity, and having them served to me on day one was somewhat poetic… I found them creamy, delicate, and NOTHING like what I was expecting. So the lesson is this: try everything once, and taste your way through life. Let the adventures begin…