Swallow This: Ginger at the MGM National Harbor Serves $188 Edible Bird’s Nests

The off-menu dish is a Chinese delicacy.

The braised, double-boiled bird's nest dessert at Ginger MGM National Harbor. Photograph courtesy of MGM

Over-the-top eating is part of the entertainment at the new MGM National Harbor, with plenty of unusual and extravagant offerings worthy of a casino. (Think live sea urchin at Fish by José Andrés, or Blossom Cocktail Lounge’s $1,000 “Dom-a-Rita.”) But the pan-Asian restaurant Ginger may offer the most exotic delicacy of all: a dessert of braised, double-boiled bird’s nests sourced from Thailand.

Nicknamed the “Caviar of the East,” swallow’s nests were traditionally prepared for the emperor’s family and royals in China. Ginger’s executive chef Andy Lau, a native of Hong Kong, says that the dish is partly medicinal and designed to give the skin “youthful characteristics” (hence, he says, most popular with women).

The nests—your typical avian mix of small twigs, leaves, and saliva—are often cooked until nearly dissolved in a savory soup. Lau takes a sweet approach, braising the little roosts for 48 hours with filtered spring water and rock sugar until the texture is fluid and slightly gelatinous. Bowls, meant for one, are crowned with red dates.

The idea of eating spittle-bound twigs aside, the nest’s $188 price tag may make the dish hard to swallow for some. It’s currently an off-menu item that’s available only by request. Other delicacies on the chef’s “special menu” run a touch more mainstream, including live abalone, a 24-hour Buddha Jump Over the Wall soup (without shark fin, which is illegal in Maryland), and soon: more live seafood from tanks being installed in the kitchen. Of course, there’s always pad Thai for the truly unadventurous.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.