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Daily Mandarin - Century Egg

You can type the six-digit date September 26th 2015 "092615" to get an auto response vocal recording, pinyin and translation for today's expression.

Today's expression is 皮蛋 - Century egg, also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg, is a Chinese delicacy made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing.

You wouldn't think something as ordinary as an egg would repel so many expat eaters. However, in China, egg options can be far from ordinary with eggs stewed in schoolboy urine, eggs that bounce like squash balls, and of course, century eggs. Though probably the least odd of China's odd egg roster, the century egg gained notoriety last year when a CNNGo reporter dubbed it "the most revolting food he'd ever had," enraging century egg producers and fanatics alike. We hoped to discover whether the century egg was a rightfully-deemed "bad egg" or conversely, a love we just hadn't hatched yet.

Contrary to wide belief, the century egg's preparation doesn't involve burying an egg underground for a hundred years, nor does it call for horse urine - despite its Chinese name rhyming with "pee'd on." The cooking process instead requires curing eggs, usually duck eggs, in an alkaline concoction of mud, lime, ash, tea, salt, and rice hulls for around 100 days (or shorter if it's warmer). After the 100 days or so, the eggs are exhumed and served sliced like oranges with soy and vinegar, or cubed and scattered over doufu or congee.

With a name like "century eggs," you'd expect these eats to have a wealth of historical info attached to them, but their origins are unfortunately grayer than their yolks. While most cite the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as the century egg's birth-era, others believe it originated in Chinese cooking 1,000 or more years ago.

Origin stories are equally murky with one of the more noteworthy tales concerning a Hunan man in the Ming Dynasty who happened upon eggs that had been sitting in lime at a construction site for two months. He allegedly tasted the eggs, concluded that they needed salt, and the century egg was born.

More is known about the nutritional properties of the century egg, which despite its literally oddball appearance (which usually denotes a nutritional/medicinal miracle in Chinese gastronomy), has diminished nutritional value compared to a normal egg. But the aging process does lend the century egg a seemingly interminable shelf-life and one of the more distinctly pungent flavors on the planet.

source: Shanghaiist