May 27 2012
Known as century eggs, hundred-year eggs, millennium eggs or pidan, this Chinese delicacy is not as old as its name suggests but might take that long to work up the courage to eat. If you can get over the pungent smell and its odd colour, its a popular dish in Malaysia that you might find yourself enjoying.
Preserved for weeks or several months at the most, the dish dates back to the Ming Dynasty and used to be made by coating duck, quail or chicken eggs in clay. It’s believed that the tradition began around 600 years ago, when someone discovered old eggs could be preserved in liquid lime. Nowadays, the egg preservation process is facilitated by an alkaline mixture of salt, tea, lime and wood ash before being wrapped in rice husks for several weeks.
During that time, the pH level of the egg increases to between 9 and 12 while the curing process breaks down the proteins and fats into complex and distinct flavours. And voila, a curious metamorphosis takes place, with the yolk of the egg turning a dark green and possessing a creamy, pungent, savoury and yet sweet consistency. The white turns gelatinous and a dark amber colour. The translucent jelly-like texture of the white is often adorned with strange patterns resembling fireworks or pine tree branches, giving rise to its Chinese name, the “pine-patterned egg”.
To be enjoyed as a delicacy, century eggs are often served in small portions and as an appetiser. While an acquired taste, for those of you who can stand strong cheese, in reality, century eggs won’t be much more of a shock to your system. This versatile dish crops up all over Asia; the Cantonese and most Malaysians eat it as an hors d’oeuvre, with slices of pickled ginger. In northern China and Taiwan, sliced century egg is placed over soft tofu and sprinkled with shredded ginger, spring onion, soy sauce and sesame oil.
So where can you find good century eggs in Kuala Lumpur? If you’re pressed for time, you don’t have to dine at a restaurant as most supermarkets here carry duck and quail century eggs. Tesco’s and TMC carry them and also have Japanese food sections that carry sliced pickled ginger. You’re half way there; all you then have to do is slowly remove the rice husks and clay from the egg shell, which will have turned spotted from the curing process, and break it open like you would a boiled egg. Rinse the egg before slicing it into four or six parts. Once topped with the ginger slices, you’re good to go.
If you prefer to avoid the pungent smell of old clay and have your dish prepared beforehand, Fatty Crab is not only famous for its sweet and sour crab and seafood dishes but also for its century eggs. Most traditional Chinese restaurants and food stalls will also carry the eggs, even if not listed on the menu.
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