That’s what they call them in Thailand, anyway. When I ordered them off the menu last night, I completely glossed over the name. All I knew was that it said ‘egg something horse’. As it turns out, something was the word for urine — but at the time, I didn’t have that word in my Thai vocabulary. Behaving much like the foreigner that I am, I only knew what they were from looking at the picture. These so-called ‘horse urine eggs’ are what I would otherwise call century egg or thousand-year-old egg.
Last night I organised karaoke and, as often happens when I get large groups of people together for meals, I end up taking charge of food. Honestly, I never put my hand up straightaway but it’s always clear after about 15 minutes that someone needs to do something. So it often falls upon my shoulders and I’d like to think that I’ve now mastered the art of ordering for big groups pretty damn well. I know how to order dim sum for twenty white people. I know how to order food when there’s one person in the group who is a vegetarian, vegan, pescotarian, ovolactarian, you name it. Recently, I even got a lot of practice ordering Chinese food in Hong Kong for my fussy Vietnamese parents.
While perusing a menu I’ll consider every single person’s dietary requirements, taste preferences, and what I know or guess about their personality. Usually the result is ordering for the lowest common denominator which is generally quite boring for me, but great in terms of keeping everyone happy and satisfied with the food put down in front of them. Sometimes things go wrong when people don’t tell me what they feel like or if they have a particular allergy they forget to ntion. But last night, it was all me putting a foot wrong: I forgot that thousand-year-old egg is in the realm of ‘exotic’ food that most non-Asians have never eaten before. My bad.
After the plate with the eggs and pickled ginger came out, some of my friends looked at the eggs in horror — and a camera started to flash, like a freakshow had just passed by. And then there were the questions of what they were made of and how they were flavoured — and I could only dimly remember that the oxidisation process occurs with the shells kept firmly on the eggs while they were buried in God knows what. One of the girls was a coeliac, which she didn’t disclose at the time, and she was asking if it was made with soy, which has wheat. I was pretty sure that they didn’t have soy but she didn’t seem convinced; however, I would guess that she wasn’t desperate to try them.
Actually, I got vaguely irritated by someone else’s comment that it was really bizarre that anyone thought to make eggs like that — but surely it’s not that bizarre at all, and the oxidised eggs are obviously a method of preserving food. An idea not unheard of throughout cultures around the world. I guess people forget that inoffensive stuff like strawberry jam was invented to preserve fruit that would otherwise rot, not simply as something you buy off a supermarket shelf to spread on your toast in the mornings!
Having said all that, it really wasn’t all that long ago that I tried them. I only knowingly tried these eggs for the first time in 2006, celebrating Chinese New Year at a floating restaurant in the Canary Wharf area of London with friends. Back then the eggs were chopped up in a mixed vegetable dish and from that moment on they have been a firm favourite; I particularly like them with congee. I love the rich texture of these eggs and the unique, pungent taste. And besides, I love eggs every which way, and I am a very consistent food lover in that way; when I love a particular ingredient, I will love just about every one of its reincarnations.
Today I decided to do some research to find out more about these eggs and now I realise that last night I didn’t eat them the way they’re supposed to be eaten. I ate them by themselves and in conjunction with the other dishes ordered, but as an hors d’oeuvre, there’s a particular way to eat them. When they come in their native state like that, they’re best eaten with the pickled ginger (and other strong tasting accompaniments). Next time.
By the way, just in case you were wondering, horse urine does not come into the making of these. That’s just an urban myth, apparently.
(Image courtesy of avylxyz)