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Virgin boy eggs are a traditional dish of Dongyang, Zhejiang, China in which eggs are boiled in the urine of young boys, preferably under the age of ten. Named "tong zi dan" (Chinese: 童子尿煮鸡蛋; pinyin: Tóngzǐ Niào Zhǔ Jīdàn), the dish translates literally to "boy egg" and is a springtime tradition of the city where the urine is collected from prepubescent males. 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 be become cured in the urine as they are left to simmer. The entire process is generally a daylong endeavor. According to some recipes, different herbs may also be added to the marinade. 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.
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