In Dongyang, China, spring is in the air... wait a minute, that's not spring, it's the unmistakable aroma of 'Virgin Eggs'. Sold steaming hot on Dongyang streetcorners, eggs boiled in the urine of young boys are said to be the perfect springtime tonic.
The city of Dongyang, located in eastern China's Zhejiang Province, has a long and proud history dating back to its founding in the year 195 AD. After nearly 2,000 years the city can boast a host of unique and distinctive cultural traditions. One of the most unique is the eating of tong zi dan (童子蛋), or “Boy Egg”... chicken eggs boiled in the urine of prepubescent boys.
Typically prepared by vendors at streetcorner kiosks in the spring, Virgin Eggs have become part of the city's cultural fabric; so much so that in 2008 Dongyang city authorities officially recognized the practice as part of their heritage.
Virgin Eggs cost 1.50 yuan (23 cents) each and they're reputed to impart energy in the spring and prevent heat stroke in the summer. Some of the locals just can't get enough of the golden globes.
“It is so yummy,” exclaimed a Ms Liu, who moved to Dongyang several years ago. “I can eat 10 within a day. I'd never tried it before. After my first taste of it, I've become addicted to it.”
As Dongyang today is a bustling city of nearly one million, the Virgin Egg business has had to adapt to modern collection and distribution realities. For instance, local schools set up buckets in the hallways where male students under the age of 10 are instructed to answer nature's call – but only if they feel healthy and not ill or feverish. The urine is then collected by Virgin Egg preparers.
The recipe (don't try this at home, kids) goes something like this: Soak the eggs in urine and heat to boiling over a hot stove. Remove the eggs and crack - but don't remove - the shells. Add the eggs back into the urine and simmer, adding more urine as required, for about a day. The process tints the egg whites a pale golden brown while the yolks take on a greenish hue. Not that this is gonna put you off eating them at this point.
Medical professionals are somewhat divided on the supposed benefits of Virgin Eggs. According to Dr. Jia Suqing, who practices at the Chinese Medicine Hospital in Jinhua, the urine of prepubescent boys was used in ancient times to enhance the efficacy of medication. Though consumption of urine, even indirectly, is rather unsanitary in his opinion, Jia recognizes the fact that “it has become a local custom. I don’t encourage or object to it.”
Planning a spring trip to Dongyang? As mentioned, the city is a cultural mecca offering visitors such delights as the 800-year-old Lu Residential Complex and Hengdian World Studios, the Hollywood of China.
It's also good to know that should one feel a bit peckish while moseying down the city's streets, there's a streetcorner kiosk close at hand where you can scarf down a marinated egg or two. Those who've tried them, rate them “Number One.” (via YeinJee's Asian Journal and Ministry of Tofu)