“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.”
~ Zora Neale Hurston
Pei Dan (pay-DAHN) is the Chinese name for preserved eggs (also called “Thousand-Year Eggs“) made with a centuries-old technique by curing them in clay, ash, lime, salt, and rice hulls for several months. The curing turns the egg “white” into a transparent, purple or brown springy gelatinous protein (think between “jello jiggler” and calamari), and turns the yolk a grayish color with a creamy texture. The process was of course developed to preserve eggs during prosperous times so they could be eaten when fresh eggs were not plentiful. Today, like many foods created centuries ago out of necessity, they are eaten as a delicacy.
My great-grandparents and grandparents ate pei dan and my parents do too – and Nick likes it in jook (rice porridge). When I was little, my grandma would make me “bahk jook” or “white (plain) porridge” with nothing in it, and come on, look at that stuff! Of course if I wasn’t introduced to alien eggs when I was very young, I wasn’t going to be super enthused to try them as an adult. But today at lunch, my mom saw them on the menu and said, “Ooh, pei dan and tofu!” and I didn’t want her to miss out just because I didn’t eat them. I thought I should finally try this.
The dish she ordered is a Shanghainese style one, serving the pei dan over chilled tofu, and I believe dried, shredded pork.
One more closeup – mmmmmm:
After psyching myself up a bit and several deep breaths, I ate a piece. The first thing I noticed was that the yolk part was indeed creamy, and kind of similar to miso paste. Salty, but not overly so, with that same pasty texture. Very nice, actually. The “white” was chewy and had no flavor, which was fine, but I was surprised at how rubbery it was since it just looked like brownish purplish gelatin. Overall, it really wasn’t bad. But there is an aftertaste that’s a bit sulphury. If you like hard-boiled eggs, this aftertaste won’t bother you at all, but I since don’t care for hard-boiled eggs I did notice that flavor. After the sulphury taste, actually comes a bit of a metallic taste – kind of when you drink tap water from a city you’re not used to and taste the difference in the minerals. Again, it’s not a big deal, but I’m sensitive to those flavors as well. Since I actually don’t like eggs that much, I probably won’t be ordering pei dan for myself, but this was a pretty neat taste test for me because it’s an example of how something that looks really strange can taste very different from what you’d expect. Is there anything your friends or family love that you’ve been putting off trying? Give it a chance!