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When the story's the best part: drinking bird's nest soup


I got to try one of the legendary dishes of Chinese cuisine recently, and I still don't know quite what to make of it. Here's my exploration of yan wo, bird's nest soup, in today's Buffalo News.

At Sun Restaurant Buffalo, 1989 Niagara St., Kevin Lin is selling it for $40 a bowl and up, and I did my level best to explain why. It doesn't taste bad. It doesn't taste good, except for the rock sugar he steamed the nest with, in the traditional fashion. 

Fabled for a thousand years. Doesn't taste like anything at all. Really.

Pointing out that it's supposed to be strong medicine, Lin cracked me up by saying, “You want flavor? I recommend tom yum soup. Five dollars.”

Why did perverse Westeners fasten onto castor oil and cod liver oil for force-feeding children who are already queasy? Most kids would ask for seconds of bird's nest soup. 

Chinese Chinese food has long fascinated me, and I've done what exploring I could, in Flushing and Los Angeles, Manhattan and Toronto. Now Buffalo is seeing a burgeoning Chinese restaurant presence, driven by the more than 2,000 Chinese students at the University at Buffalo.

Many brought families, especially the graduate and professional students. They eat at new places like Peking Quick One in Tonawanda, and Amherst's China Star and Wok and Roll, as well as established places like Uncle John's No. 1, Gin Gin, Golden Duck and Eastern Pearl. I feel like I owe those students thanks for the dining they've made possible for the other million eaters in town.

Dining that includes dishes I never dreamed of.

I've gotten used to the Chinese appreciation of texture as well as flavor. Duck tongues are chewy. Jellyfish is soft but still has a snap. Shaved beef tendon has a pleasant chew. Deep-fried pig intestine is crunchy like a hybrid of onion ring and pork rind. 

Thing is, all those dishes come in sauces so interesting they'd make anything edible. With the slippery jelly threads of bird's nest soup, just a dash of sugar. Because the legend is the most satisfying part.



Food and Drink
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