A bird's nest before becoming soup.
Since California's ban on the sale of shark fins went into effect in July of this year, aficionados of shark fin soup have faced a dilemma: What to replace it with as a sign of wealth and hospitality at formal Chinese banquets? It's a tough question—and KQED has the answer.
At least for some people, the next best thing is bird's nest soup, which is made with dehydrated swallow’s nests harvested by hand from Indonesian or Vietnamese caves. Yum?
As KQED tells it, shark fin soup, which was banned in the face of over-harvesting concerns, is prized not so much for its taste as its texture and its price tag. A bowl could fetch between $20 and $100. As a guest at an 80th birthday party in Daly City explained, “the person that’s serving shark fin soup to their guests is really showing them that they have wealth and that they treat their guests with respect.” So you do you scratch the shark fin itch without the shark fin?
Cooks have been experimenting with different replacements. Daly City’s Koi Palace tried a substitute made of gelatin, but diners balked. Then it tried the fins of elephant fish harvested from Australia. Those were small. Another flop. The next best thing? Bird’s nest soup, which doesn’t quite taste the same, but—good news!—is almost as costly, at $35 to $50 a bowl, meaning it fulfills the same social role as shark fin soup did—and swallows aren’t nearly as endangered.
The other choice? Head to Nevada. You can still slurp with abandon over there.