My Mother’s Hundred Year Eggs

Behind the Scenes with Bev
May 18, 2018
Burnt Buns & Margaritas
October 3, 2018

Stories told at My Mother's Recipe

My Mother's Hundred Year Eggs

Who doesn’t love eggs?  My mother made all sorts of traditional Chinese egg dishes for dinner.  Some of my favorite dishes were scrambled eggs and tomato; scrambled eggs and baby shrimp; scrambled eggs and Chinese chives.  For picnics, she'd make a dozen marbled tea eggs.

When I was a child, she’d sauté freshly made, fluffy white rice, with peas and scrambled eggs.  It was delicate and unlike any restaurant fried rice I’ve ever eaten.  

And then there were dishes made with unconventional eggs.   She’d steam minced pork and Chinatown-bought salty duck eggs.  I still have the Corningware bowl she used for steaming. 

One memorable cold appetizer was made with Hundred Year eggs.   They aren’t cooked or boiled like conventional eggs.  Instead, they’re soaked or preserved in some funky stuff like quicklime or sodium hydroxide solution for a long time.  What’s a long time?  Maybe months.  Certainly, not 100 years.  I’ve never met anyone who makes these eggs.  We always bought them in Chinatown. 

When you peel them, the inside is gelatinous and black, and the yolks are dark olive green and creamy.  The yolks have a strong and distinctive taste, a bit like ammonia.  You’re thinking, “Who’d eat something that smells like a cleaning agent?”  Well, isn’t that like eating Camembert or blue cheese?  And just like those cheeses, hundred year eggs are eaten sparingly.   You’d slice a few and put it on a dish as a simple appetizer to eat with rice congee.

On a hot summer day, my mother would mix in a bowl some finely chopped black eggs with cold, silken dofu that she’d mash with a fork.  Add finely minced fresh cilantro, drizzle in some toasted sesame oil and a pinch of salt, and you have a distinctive yin-yang combination of intense plus bland.  

Sylvia Wu

18 September 2018