To the untrained eye, a century egg resembles an amber-preserved fossil. The gelatinous, translucent albumen is punctuated by the greenish-black glow of a gooey yolk. In Thailand and Laos, they call this delicacy a “horse urine egg” due to its striking smell. Tasters liken it to “ripe Camembert, pungent and creamy, with a whiff of ammonia.”
On tables across Asia, the pungent eggs appear in various forms, whether chopped over chilled silken tofu, sliced like velvety, strong cheese, or ground into a pastry filling. Thai diners pair fried century eggs with spicy pork or chicken, while chefs in Hong Kong serve them kung pao–style, with peanuts and chilies. Some fans recommend first-timers ease into the flavor by mixing one into congee (hot rice porridge), for a subtle, savory richness that doesn’t dominate the whole dish.
Traditionally, Chinese and Southeast Asian producers transform duck, quail, and chicken eggs into century eggs by soaking them in a mixture containing black tea, lime, and salt, along with wood ashes, baking soda, or quicklime. The alkaline blend “cooks” the protein without heat for two to five months (not exactly a century). Unfortunately, some companies have begun adding dangerous chemicals, such as the arsenic-laced copper sulphate, to speed up preparation time.
Despite a century egg’s appearance, there’s no need to worry about the food itself. The real danger comes from trying to cheat time with unscrupulous shortcuts. A full century might be overkill, but real century eggs do take time.
Need to Know
Asian grocery stores sell ready-to-eat century eggs covered in brown clay and rice hulls. Just wash one off, slice it up, and savor it like a strong cheese, not a hardboiled egg. It's not meant to be eaten in two bites.
Where to Try It
Yung Kee Restaurant32-40 Wellington Street, Hong Kong, China
This upscale, popular restaurant is famous for its century eggs (pidan) and roast goose dishes.
Ho Foods110 E 7th St , New York, New York, 10009, United States
Homemade soft tofu, century egg, and sweet soy with bonito flakes is offered as a side at this Taiwanese dinner spot in Alphabet City. If you go for dinner, know that you're eating beef noodle soup—it's the only entree.