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.
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.