Monday, November 24, 2008

Black Eggs


Pi dan after the rice husks and shell are removed.

This is a century egg. Some people exaggerate and call it thousand-year old egg. Both these names must've been given by some foreigner, 'inspired' by the color of the egg. The Chinese will not know what a century or thousand year old egg is because they call it pi dan ( pronounced "pe dun") which translates as skin egg. If you have never seen or eaten this before, it is terrifying. I saw an episode of Fear Factor where the contestants had to eat pi dan, and another where they had to eat durians, and I wish I was a contestant. The guys were choking while the girls were crying. I was crying too because I knew that if I was there, I would've gobbled everybody's share of the durians and pi dan and walked home with the prize. If you are ever given a choice of pi dan or durians, both of which you abhor, go for the durian. It is after all a fruit, not some treated produce of an animal.

You can smell the presence of a durian within half a kilometre but the smell of a pi dan won't hit you until it's in your mouth. If eating it for the first time, I fully understand if you spit it out. It doesn't help that when people who are being 'initiated' to pi dan are often made to eat the whole egg in one mouthful. You just don't do that. It is after all raw ducks' eggs coated with rice husk , clay and ammonia and left for a month, resulting in a totally different looking egg: the white of the egg becomes a clear black-brown tasteless jelly with snow-flake like patterns due to crystals of salt (I think) while the yolk turns greenish. A soft oozy yolk is preferred over a hard yolk because it will give a creamy texture. The egg is edible straightaway; there's no need to cook. The taste is indescribable but it is more the pungency of the ammonia that breaks you. It is not something anyone will like at first bite so it definitely is a matter of getting used to. Sometimes the ammonia can hit you stronger than usual and it is disgusting. My mom used to tell me pi dan is duck eggs soaked in horses' pee. That's because most people in her generation really were told that, mainly because most animals excrete ammonia as urea. Of course now we know ammonia can be easily produced in the chemical plants. If you think that's disgusting and weird, so are blue cheeses because those large veins of blue are MOLD. Although I eat pi dan, I would rather starve to death than eat a Filipino balut which is a fertilized egg that is half way to becoming a chick. I hope you are thoroughly nauseated by now.

Because the taste is so unusual, pi dan is usually served cut into small pieces as a starter, with pickled young ginger to wash away the taste between bites, or more often, added to pork congee which makes it a delicious night or breakfast dish. A coffee shop in Iramanis used to sell pi dan pies, complete with a small piece of sweet pickled ginger, and they were heavenly. Unfortunately not many people, especially the young people, appreciate pi dan enough to eat it as a dessert and the shop doesn't make them anymore.

I once served two Canadian sisters pi dan to get back at them for laughing at my bowl of 'squiggly' instant noodles. The pi dan freaked them out and I was both thrilled and sorry.


To cut a pi dan (or any cooked egg) into clean, perfect pieces, you should use a piece of thread and pull it through without hesistation. Lack of practice will give pieces of dan (egg) like this::

A good pi dan has a soft, oozy center.


A common way to serve pi dan is as an appetizer, with young pickled ginger. You have to splash some soy sauce and sesame oil on the pi dan first.

Another way to cook pi dan is to cook a salted duck's egg, a fresh chicken egg and a pi dan in plenty of superior chicken stock, and add a bunch of 'emperor's veg'. or Chinese spinach. Since my garden is out of these veg, here's one way you can cook your pi dan. You also need these 3 types of eggs:

A salted duck's egg (I used this for impact. I prefer ducks' eggs salted in brine to this one packed in black ash which is too salty for me), a fresh chicken egg and pi dan.


3 Eggs Savory Custard
1 salted egg
2 fresh chicken eggS
1 pi dan, shelled
1 cup room temp water
a shake of white pepper

1. Break the chicken eggs and salted egg into a bowl and beat with a small whisk. Cut or mash the salted egg yolk and pi dan into small pieces and add to the beaten egg.

2. Shake some white pepper in, add some salt if like (the salted egg is quite enough) and the cup of water. Whisk to mix well

3. Scoop into ramekins or bowls and steam at medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.


ganache-ganache said...

Oh, you make me drool over such a simple meal of 'pi dan' & young ginger, I love 'pi dan' but I don't order them in restaurants, just so not worth it to be paying so much for such cheap & simple fare !!

Precious Pea said...

I just had half a pi dan during dinner. Usually when I cook something with pi dan, I always ended up eating one whole pi dan while cutting it up. So i always buy extra! I agree with you, how could pi dan qualified to be something that we should be fearful of? Such delicacy!

triShie said...

call me gundu but i never thought much of how a century egg looks like still in its fact, i've never seen it whole! from the first pic, i really thot that was an egg with its shell!!!!!

my, i'm really getting a food education from you!!!!! thanks!

ps: i dun fancy the taste

ChopSuey said...

Wow. Thanks for the exposition. Your comments on "Fear Factor" made me laugh through my nose because that's how my friends saw pi dan when I would eat it in frot of them!

If you're looking for topics, consider doing a mushroom study. Especially chinese uses vs italian...?

PureGlutton said...

I love pi dan! And I always make that 3-egg custard whenever i hv pi dan pangs and need a protein boost!

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

adore pi dan..whether its porridge..steam egg..lor bak..or even on its own!

J2Kfm said...

a must when it comes to Lor Bak or porridge. I never question the source of century egg. how they're made n such.

but definitely not yucky. the mushy centre and gelatinous sides make a terrific combination.

Anonymous said...

I love pi dan especially deep fried. Talking about durian, have you heard of Bizzare Food with Andrew Zimmern. He travels the world to eat unusual stuff like ants larva, bugs, fried bats, any kind of animal intestines. 1 thing he couldn't take is Durian, you can watch here

Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

aiyor! the best part of pi dan is the yolk ! the taste is soooo intensifying when it's in ur mouth! SLurrp!
me & dad love that, mum will start saying " mm hai yan sek geh!" hahaha

Terri @ A Daily Obsession said...

ganache: u r right about paying too much. i am a cheapskate. i even return the peanuts n pickles bc i don't need to eat them plus service tax is charged anyway

pp: i can't eat a whole pi dan--how do u do tt??

trish:really? u young ppl need to cok more. don't tell me u've never seen a live chicken.

iheartny: eat in front of them?!bet they were totally disgusted.hmm, thanx for the suggestion (u spotted my 'i have nothing to post' sign). i can do a local mroom post but there's not much imported mrooms here, let alone italian ones:(

pureglutton: yes n it's easy to do but i still prefer pork mince egg custard

joe: pi dan in lor bak? tt's new to me

j2fk: pi dan in lor bak again? must be a westie thing. yes, it's amazing how the pi dan has two diff textures.

linda: i find it offensive when durians r treated like some disgusting food. it is beyond delicious! i think a lot of westerners are not just put off by the strong smell, but also by the fact that the durian is soft, mushy n creamy, while most fruits are crunchy n juicy.

how is ur deep fried pi dan? is it like those scotch pi dan in hk?

denise: i am surprise tt u like pi dan. i expected u to go "eee yukks!!"

Agnes @ rB said...

Pi Dan always appear most of time during my family potluck. Its everyone's favourite as an appetizer. Yums~

Rei said...

The 3 eggs savoury custard is comfort food for me. My grandma used to make it for me. I watched that Fear factor episode too and I was thinking this is too easy for Asians. :D

triShie said...

LOL!! oi, i not so blur queen. i've seen live chickens, pigs, name it. and i heard a pig being slaughtered in East Timor...does that make me not so innocent young generation? :D :D

Unknown said...
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Denise ^ ChickyEGG said...

I love I love pi dan. I love the Ginger Rose too!

Anonymous said...

looooove pi dan. the ones i get these days from the market are not 'ready' and smells too much of ammonia.

the horse pee story is what my mom told me too. do you think it's just some eggs left out and happened to get soaked in urea. and people were just too poor to waste anything so it became food?
i can't imagine anyone back then actually soaking eggs in lab made ammonia just to eat them.

WoMbOk™♂ said...

Suddenly feel like having century egg congee :P and my word the ginger rose looks so pretty. Talk about a nice garnish.

LoveAffair Cakes by mirela said...

:)) I looved your post!

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