We and our primate ancestors adore eggs. In our earlier tree-dwelling phase, eggs snatched from nests were a high-protein food that could be enjoyed by infants and adults alike. Eggs were part of paleodiets that pre-date our species, even our genus. They are important to hunter-gatherers, gardeners, farmers, and city folk. No diet, paleolithic, neolithic, or industrial, is complete without eggs (my apologies to those of you who are allergic).

The Taiwanese love a good thousand-year egg on their breakfast plate, a tradition that floated across the Taiwan Strait more than 400 years ago on bamboo junks. The below example comes from the kitchens of Academia Sinica (picture the Smithsonian Institution or M.I.T., smaller with nice dorms and a restaurant). The eggs (duck, chicken, or quail) are prepared by wrapping in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls and then leaving for weeks or even months. In the old days eggs were buried and there are tales of ancient eggs being exhumed–then consumed.

Chinese people probably didn’t invent thousand-year eggs until the advent of domestication (so you could grab a few eggs on short notice from chickens, who were converted from jungle fowl at least 6,000 years ago) and settled living (so you could bury your eggs and be reasonably sure to remember where you left them).

When removed from their coating, the egg shells are a delicate grey-brown sometimes with branchlike markings. The above left image is of a painstakingly wrapped thousand year egg; on the right, of my Taiwanese breakfast egg. The yolk turns granular, with a deep thunderhead-grey color and a faint flavor of salt, smoke, and sulfur. The white becomes an exquisite translucent deep brown or caramel color, and rubbery-smooth. I’m not making this sound very tasty; nonetheless,  you’ll have to try one and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

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