Sunday, June 02, 2013

Jonker Bird House (永安燕子生态馆) - Bird's Nest Soup and a Heritage Visit @ Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock [Melaka]

From the English name (Jonker Bird House), i was under the impression that this would likely be a boring exhibition showcasing native birds from Malaysia! And frankly, what can a house offer as compared to an outdoor bird park?!

The bird in this case refers to the swiftlets adored by most Chinese over the world although the great interest lies more with their precious by-product; the solidified saliva. 

Offering an educational tour touching on the history, harvesting and processing of bird's nest, this attraction also allows visitors to buy 100% genuine bird's nest and even the opportunity to have bird's nest delicacies in the vicinity!

First, let's walk through the dark corridor where the house was partially cut out to create a separate area for swiftlets to nest. As many are aware, the strong demand for bird's nest has resulted in the construction of many bird houses in Malaysia that often look like abandoned buildings. 

Wikipedia told me that bird's nest soup has been around for 400 years. According to legend, the well known voyager from the Ming Dynasty, Cheng He, and his hungry crew chanced upon bird's nests in the caves while stuck on an island around this region and decided to cook them. Why they chose to think them as food baffles me but the point is that they eventually presented bird's nest to the mighty emperor. 

Look at this! Who in the right mind would think them as edible?! This pyramid container gave a great representation of the bird's nests collected from the natural caves. 

These belonged to swiftlets who resided in the bird houses i mentioned before. 

As you can see, they contained less impurities and this has to do with the environment. A purpose built house has better control in sanitation, collection and even deterring wild animals from entering. Conditions that are simply more difficult to implement in a natural environment like caves.

Ever wonder what is the most basic method used to 'persuade' swiftlets into those bird houses to make their nests? Food? Monetary benefits? Blackmails? Nay, you just need a device to amplify the swiftlets' unique chirp.

Distribution of swiftlets! There are over 30 species in the world and only the nests from 2 are edible. They are the Edible-nest Swiftlet (also known as White-nest Swiftlet) and the Black-nest Swiftlet.

Unprocessed bird's nests don't usually appear as a perfect cup shape and include foreign matters like feathers from the swiftlets. That's when the processing workshop steps in!

Over in this small workshop, well-trained ladies were meticulously picking out the impurities from the soaked bird's nests and their aim was to make those nests 99.9% clean.

Six steps from unprocessed to the finished product - slice and cut, grind, clean feather, brush and wash, moulding and shape forming. 

I remember a news article a few years ago which reported that a high number of bird's nest factories were using bleach as an agent to whiten bird's nest; hence enhancing their aesthetic properties to sell for a higher value! Such an unscrupulous method was of course not used here. 

The beautiful heritage house we were in has a history of over four hundred years and it's hard to imagine that just a few years ago, it was abandoned with swiftlets occupying the premise.

Time to have bird's nest delicacies! I am not going to bore you with the word for word copying of nutritional benefits of consuming bird's nest. If you wish to know, click the above picture. 

Our order - a bowl of bird's nest cost us a promotional rate of RM 50 (original RM 100). Honestly, i wasn't expecting much after the disappointing episode at Halle Herbal Tea

And boy was i shocked to see this! The bowl of soup was just brimming with processed swiftlets' spit and the only thing i didn't like to see was raisin toppings (not that i dislike; just that i have never had raisins in bird's nest).  

It was pure bird's nest which means it was cooked with no flavouring. You have to take your pick from the two bottles above; white for rock sugar and red for red date syrup. 

Rich and fulfilling! We heard from the guide that each bowl contained a generous serving of 4.5 to 5 grams of bird's nest; this was certainly an incredible deal over the pathetic one we had at Halle

On its own, the mango pudding was already very nice (not too sweet). However, the addition of flavourless bird's nest failed to enhance the RM 30 dessert. Well, we were paying for the bird's nest, not the mango pudding. 

Within the same area was a retail outlet where visitors can have their pick of the different grades of bird's nest. Mom, if she came with us, would have enjoyed herself very much at this point! 

Further to the use of bleach in the processing of bird's nests, there are also many cases of fake bird's nests in the market. I have pasted three pictures here; only two are real with one of a high quality. The fake one had added pork skin to reduce the bird's nest content. So you want to make a guess? 

In addition to learning bird's nest in general, another big advantage to visit Jonker Bird House was the chance to immense ourselves in the surrounding of the historically rich building. [The fragments of pottery in the photograph was found during the renovation]

We were brought to the top floor to check out the tiles which had maintained the same orange outlook for over three hundred years! I thought i heard the guide claimed that they were the same tiles from that era but as usual, i am skeptical.

Despite the hot weather, it was spectacular to see the mix of old and new developments in this UNESCO world heritage site. In the past, this stretch of land where terraces now stand was actually the sea! 

Two doors away was a seemingly abandoned building. Anyway interested to buy and spruce it up as one of many boutique hotels in Malacca? 

Anyway, coming back to the house itself; it's located in the posh residential area where rich peranakans stayed and was first recorded as being owned by a Mr Seet Kee Ann.

Ownership was changed two more times before it was eventually bought over Mr Chen Joon Onn who converted the building, delicately restoring the original design, to the Jonker Bird House we know today.

First level and another entrance from the back of the building. Though there was no direct connection, you can also find a retail shop selling cocoa specialty products under the brand Hoko. 

As a remembrance that the building used to be flooded with sea water at times, the owner decided to dedicate a section of the building to be on stilts in a pool of water. If you ask me, i have nagging feeling that this has to do with Feng Shui.

More to the building! 

This shell stone (with its rough surface) was widely used in the construction of buildings during the period before the British took over Melaka from the Dutch. 

The above was the reconstruction of door and windows from the middle of the 19th century using original materials that were said to be very durable. 

A unique square-shaped ancient well (it was a must to have a well in every building back in those days) that has now been converted into a touristy item - the wishing well. 

Last part of our journey - a replica of a cave where bird nests are traditionally found. 

Reminded me of those caves in China albeit of a much smaller scale! The purpose of this was to show visitors that it's extremely hard (not to mention dangerous too) to harvest bird nests in the caves and this explains why bird's nests from caves command a much higher value. 


No 77,  Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock
[previously known as Hereen Street]

As above.
[building highlighted in blue]


Admission Fee
RM 10 per person
[Admission fee will be waived if you order bird's nest delicacies like we did before entering and i would strongly recommend you do so. The Gang of Four only topped up RM 40 to have a satisfying bowl of bird's nest and a serving of mango pudding] 

Additional Information
Jonker Bird House was also known as Swiftlets Ecology and Discovery Centre. 

By the way, there was an actual bird house with the entire premises solely reserved for the swiftlets. You can find it directly opposite the front entrance of Jonker Bird House! 


  1. oh, so which 2 are the real birds nest?

    1. have you made a guess yet!? Haha.

      My initial guess was wrong as i thought it would be the first and second since the third one appeared to look more like snow fungus.

      Answer: The first and third one are real. :P


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