Saturday, March 31, 2012

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Different cultures have traditions and customs that often seem strange to people not raised within that culture. Growing up I was taught to have a deep respect for other cultures and as an adult I have enjoyed learning and, at times, participating in some of the traditions and customs of other countries. For example, I considered myself honored to be invited to a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, which was a wonderful experience. Having said that, I must admit there are a few customs I find hard to "swallow".

One such custom is the eating of "Virgin Boy Eggs", something considered both delicious and healthy in one province of China. Basins and buckets of boys' urine are collected from primary school toilets. It is the key ingredient in "virgin boy eggs", a local tradition of soaking and cooking eggs in the urine of young boys, preferably below the age of 10. There is no good explanation for why it has to be boys' urine, just that it has been so for centuries.

The scent of these eggs being cooked in pots of urine is unmistakable as people pass the many street vendors in Dongyang who sell it, claiming it has remarkable health properties. "If you eat this, you will not get heat stroke. These eggs cooked in urine are fragrant," said Ge Yaohua, 51, who owns one of the more popular "virgin boy eggs" stalls. "They are good for your health. Our family has them for every meal. In Dongyang, every family likes eating them."

It takes nearly an entire day to make these unique eggs, starting off by soaking and then boiling raw eggs in a pot of urine. After that, the shells of the hard-boiled eggs are cracked and they continue to simmer in urine for hours. Vendors have to keep pouring urine into the pot and controlling the fire to keep the eggs from being overheated and overcooked.

Ge said he has been making the snack, popular due to its fresh and salty taste, for more than 20 years. Each egg goes for 1.50 yuan ($0.24), a little more than twice the price of the regular eggs he also sells.

Many Dongyang residents, young and old, say they believe in the tradition passed on by their ancestors that the eggs decrease body heat, promote better blood circulation and just generally reinvigorates the body.

The eggs are not bought only at street stalls. Local residents are also known to personally collect boys' urine from nearby schools to cook the delicacy in their homes. The popularity of the treat has led the local government to list the "virgin boy eggs" as an intangible cultural heritage.

In all fairness, not everyone is a fan. Chinese medical experts gave mixed reviews about the health benefits of the practice, with some warning about sanitary issues surrounding the use of urine to cook the eggs (yeah, I can understand that).

I have to admit that this is one traditional food I have never quite been able to try -even if it is something you can whip up at home for you next cocktail party. Besides, I'd probably get arrested for trying to collect urine from 10 year old boys.... try explaining that one to the nice police officer....

If you happen to be familiar with this little delight and have an old family recipe you can send me -please don't. This is one of those mysterious traditions that is best kept within the individual culture, don't you think?

Live Long and Prosper....


Barco Sin Vela II said...

Reminds me of the smells of Hong Kong. Yuck!

Gary said...

Yep, an aroma that you never quit forget.... unfortunately