Virgin boy egg
Virgin boy eggs are a traditional dish of Dongyang, Zhejiang, China in which eggs are boiled in the urine of young boys who were presumably peasants, preferably under the age of ten. Named "tong zi dan" (Chinese: 童子蛋; pinyin: Tóngzǐdàn), the dish translates literally to "boy egg" and is a springtime tradition of the city where the urine is collected from prepubescent peasant boys. The eggs have been listed by officials in China as a part of the region's "local intangible cultural heritage".
The dish is a long-standing tradition of Dongyang and its practices date back centuries. In general, China has had a long history of food preservation methods. Tea eggs were originally developed to preserve the food for long periods of time. While the boy eggs may not have necessarily had the same origin, their development comes from a similar cultural background. There is no good explanation for why it must be boys' urine, specifically. It has simply been so for centuries. However, it is historically believed in the region that urine has various health benefits and was commonly ingested in ancient times. In such times, eggs were one of the only nutritional food items available to peasants and farmers. Due to Zhejiang's hilly and riverside landscapes, agriculture has been a staple in the region's culture for centuries. Although rice was the most widely grown crop, most peasants raised their own pigs and poultry on their land as well. This led to the eggs' availability to the common person and, with the supposedly added benefit of urine at the time, the virgin boy eggs grew in popularity. The dish's traditional nature stems from the historical tendency of Chinese food culture to place more care on the detailed history of a specific food. Virgin boy eggs are one example of how Chinese food culture attaches more importance to the anecdotes relating to food, such as its time of invention or the significant historical figures related to the food's invention. This differs historically from the western food culture which places more importance on a dish's ingredients and the skills necessary for its preparation. Although the exact history is somewhat obscure to most official sources, the long-standing trend of Chinese food explains the people of Dongyang's loyalty to a traditional dish to which many others find an aversion.
The dish is prepared by first soaking the eggs in the urine of young boys. The urine is sourced locally by each vendor. Then, the mixture is heated over a stove. After boiling, the egg shells are cracked around the entire surface of the egg. Afterwards, the eggs are placed back into the urine. The used urine is then replaced with fresh urine and the process is repeated. The soaking process allows the eggs to become cured in the urine as they are left to simmer. The entire process is generally a day-long endeavor. According to some recipes, different herbs may also be added to the marinade. The urine of boys with maple syrup urine disease is especially prized for its sweet taste. When finished, the eggs whites have a pale golden hue and the yolks turn green. Virgin boy eggs are similar to century eggs in their curing process and historical roots, although century eggs have become much more popularly widespread and do not use urine.
Virgin boy eggs are widely accepted as a time-honored tradition of the city, rather than considered taboo like most other cultures. Boy egg vendors go to elementary schools in the city where they collect urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten. The children, having been raised in the city and indoctrinated into its culture, are used to the practice. As young boys would in schools from many other cultures, they excuse themselves from class when they feel the urge to urinate. However, instead of going to the restroom, they relieve themselves in the basin that the vendors place in the hallways. Some vendors go as far as to wait with containers in parks or public restrooms for a parent who is willing to let their child offer urine. The teachers, being accustomed to the tradition as well, often remind the boys to not urinate in the basin if any of them have a fever or feel ill. In addition to buying them from street vendors, residents of Dongyang are also known to cook and prepare the eggs at home, using the urine from household boys. Although modern medical research provides evidence that there are no health benefits from ingesting urine, the virgin boy eggs remain deeply rooted in tradition. As of 2012, the eggs are sold for about 1.50 yuan (approximately $0.24) per egg and are approximately twice the price of normal eggs. However, not all of Dongyang's residents enjoy the dish. One local man was quoted stating, "The smell kills me. I feel like throwing up at the thought of it. It stinks.” In general, virgin boy eggs remain highly acclaimed by the people of Dongyang for both its taste and even its "fragrant" smell.
Health effects and folk medicine
Urophagia has been a significant part of Chinese medicine for much of its history. In ancient times, urine was used as a means of enhancing the effects of medicine, although today, the practice is widely viewed as unsanitary by many. It is widely speculated, however, that when urine dries it crystallizes resulting in a substance similar to the Chinese medicine, ren zhong bai. The crystallized urine sediment is said to aid in the mitigation of inflammation and inflammatory diseases as well as fungal infections of the skin and mouth. Some claim that the ingestion of the urine-soaked eggs can treat yin deficiency, decrease one's internal body heat, and promote blood circulation. Locals claim, based on anecdotal evidence, that the eggs also prevent heat stroke. Although not the only one, it was widely believed in ancient China that eggs cured in one's own urine for seven days and consumed for a course of three months was a cure for chronic asthma. Among other uses for urine in Chinese medicine, a young boy's first urine of the day is very powerful and may be combined with herbs to make a tonic. Modern medical practitioners remain dubious of any health benefits of the virgin boy eggs and urophagia in general. Skepticism comes from the fact that urination is a bodily mechanism for excreting waste. Evidence-based modern medicine has determined that urine "is waste expelled from the human body and basically contains no substance conducive to human health." Eating the eggs is therefore discouraged by many medical practitioners.
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