NESTS FOR DINNER
However wonderful and beautiful nests may be, very few English people would like to eat them; yet in China the nest of a particular variety of swallow is prized as a great delicacy.
These nests are chiefly gathered from Java, Sumatra, and other islands of the Malay Archipelago, and are carried thence to China, where they fetch a large price. Although, within certain limits, they are very plentiful, they are very difficult and dangerous to get, for the swallows build in the depths of large and deep caverns, mostly on the seashore, and the men have to be let down from above by ropes, or descend on ladders of bamboo. In Java, so many men have lost their lives in nest gathering, that in some parts a regular religious ceremony is held, twice or three times a year, before the expedition is undertaken; prayers are said, and a bull is sacrificed.
It is not easy to know what the nests are really made of, because from the time that Europeans first noticed the trade — about two hundred years ago — they have differed among themselves in their accounts of the jelly-like substance used by the swallows. Some naturalists have thought it is the spawn of the fish, which floats thickly on the surface of these seas; others, that it is a kind of deposit of dried sea foam gathered by the birds from the beach, while others again think that the substance is