Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A rare delicacy hard to sell

A rare delicacy hard to sell

Ou Seathong at her Phnom Penh shop where she sells edible bird saliva, considered a delicacy in Cambodia, China and Vietnam.
Ou Seathong at her Phnom Penh shop where she sells edible bird saliva, considered a delicacy in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. The product, however, isn’t selling well since China banned imports last year. Pha Lina

A rare delicacy hard to sell

Ou Seathong sells one of the most expensive foods in the world: edible bird spit. At her shop on Street 182 in Phnom Penh, she sorts edible bird nests on the shelves. Hundreds of years old, the Chinese delicacy is made of the congealed saliva of Asian swiftlets.

Business had been good, with Chinese tourists coming to her shop and buying the nests as souvenirs before going home. But a year ago, the Chinese government put a spoke in her wheel – a ban on imports of Cambodian bird nests.

“My clients, the majority of them, came from China,” she said. “Commonly, in Cambodia there are not many people who know about bird nests, but it is well-known in China and Vietnam,” she said.

“Now Chinese authorities banned the import and it is difficult to find a market.”

It’s still some of the most expensive spit around, but the ban has caused prices to drop, with Cambodian bird nests costing around $1,500, and imports from Malaysia being worth up to $2,000 per kilogram. In the Chinese tourist heyday, the Cambodian nests went for around $2,200 per kilogram.

Processed into food or beverages, the white nests and red nests are supposedly rich in nutrients and believed to have health benefits.

“The majority of my clients are pregnant women and elderly who need more nutrition,” Seathong said.

She added that a bird’s nest can last for up to four years before losing quality if preserved well.

Before operating the shop, around seven or eight years ago, she bought some nests from other local raisers and some which were imported from Malaysia.

The motivation for Seathong to start the business stemmed from her Chinese parents, who used to cook food from the nests when she was young. At the time, prices soared to $5,000 per kilogram.

But following her decision to start a shop, more and more people built houses for birds to collect their nests, and prices plummeted before being resuscitated by the Chinese tourists.

She said that even today, the number of bird-nest raisers is increasing, along the coastline, National Road 5 as well as in Phnom Penh. Generally, however, the bird’s nests collected in coastal areas are of better quality.

Seathong’s relatives live in Kampot and have three houses for birds to live in and make nests. They collect about eight kilograms for three months, and get the remaining supplies from Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk provinces.

Because of the difficulties she faces today, Seathong said she does not intend to operate a processing factory for producing beverages from the nests because it’s expensive.

“It is high-class product,” she said. “Right now it is difficult to sell.”

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all