Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Culture Shock: Buying Eggs

A Variety of Unrefrigerated Eggs at the Wet Market

When you move halfway around the world, you expect things to be different. You probably even look forward to the differences because they add to the adventure of living in a new country. It would be boring if everything was exactly the same as home. So, I was surprised that one of my first big culture shock issues came from eggs — yes, eggs. The first week after we arrived, I was buying groceries at Tesco (similar to Wal-Mart) and had eggs on my list. I couldn't find them anywhere in the dairy cooler section where they'd be in an American grocery store. They weren't with the chilled meat. They were just sitting out on an unrefrigerated shelf. Surely this couldn't be right.

I'm the kind of gal who's hyper vigilant about food safety. At least, I used to be before I moved here. If I was serving a mayo-based dip at a party, I'd look at my clock when I set it out on the table and then replace it with a new serving two hours later. Because that's what all the American food safety rules told me to do.

Now, I know that European countries don't refrigerate eggs. They have no problem leaving them out on the countertop. But this is hot-as-an-oven Malaysia, not the cool environ of Europe Even the outdoor markets sell their eggs at room temperature (88° F). If the very long discussion thread on Chowhound.com is any indication, I'm not the only one who wonders about this. Would the eggs be okay here?

Baking is one of my favorite hobbies, so giving up eggs is out of the question. Plus, it'd be really hard to avoid when eating out. I guess I had to bite the bullet and start using unrefrigerated eggs. I did eventually find refrigerated, pasteurized eggs at Cold Storage, the fancy expat grocery store, and I make sure I use these for all my raw egg recipes like ice cream. But I'll go ahead and use the room temp ones if I'm planning on cooking them.

Unlike in America, I can also find everything from Grade A down to Grade F eggs here. I splurge and buy the Grade A ones.

With Easter rolling around, I was faced with a new challenge — finding white eggs for us to dye. Every single chicken egg I've seen here is brown. My friend says she searched all over last year and never found white ones. So, I headed to the local wet market to see what I could find. The variety is amazing. They are sold in bulk. Just grab a basket and start selecting how ever many eggs you want.

What type of bird did you want the egg to plop out of? Chicken, duck or quail?

Teeny Tiny Quail Eggs about as big as my thumb

Salted Eggs

I had to ask the vendor what the black eggs were. They're salted eggs. Ideally, they should be duck eggs, but chicken can be used, too. Raw eggs are cured in either a supersaturated salty liquid brine or packed in a salted charcoal clay. Ah, that's why they're black. After you buy them, you rinse it off and boil it. The salt permeates the entire egg and gives the yolk a deep, orange-red hue. It's a popular condiment cut into wedges in the local rice porridge.

Century Eggs

I didn't have to ask about Century Eggs because a) they were clearly labeled, and b) my parents ate them when I was growing up. Personally, they never appealed to me as a kid, and I haven't worked up the motivation to try them as an adult. These eggs are preserved by being covered in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime (as in calcium oxide, not the fruit) and rice hulls for several weeks. The ones in the picture are advertised as lead-free. The other ones (leaded, I guess) looked like they were covered in a fine, brown mulch. Something about the clay, ash, and lime has always turned me off. Plus, when you crack them open, the white has transformed into a jelly the brown color of strong tea, and the yolk is black. I am too cheap to buy one and open it up to take a picture for this blog.

Score! I found white eggs! At least, they were mostly white. I definitely had to scrub some of the soiled bits off when I got them home. Some eggs were a grayish, almost translucent color, and others were a lovely shade of pale blue. I put them in the basket and handed them to the Egg Lady. She wrapped them up in newspaper, plunked them in a plastic grocery bag and handed it back to me. Our egg dying project worked out beautifully.


  1. I never really considered where I got my eggs. I have taken it for granted. Yay for finding mostly white eggs!

  2. just FYI, the white chicken egg is usually coming from 'ayam kampung', directly translated as 'village's chicken.' ayam kampung is not commercially reared like a farm chicken but more like the traditional way

  3. Which wet market in Penang did you find the white eggs at?

    1. Is this the wet market that is open on Tuesday nights? And do you think the eggs will still be available now?

    2. It's the same place, but I go there in the morning, so I don't know if the Egg stall is open at night. This post is from last year, so I'm not sure about current white egg availablity. If I see some when I go this week, I'll post here about it. If you want them for Easter Egg dying, the brown eggs worked just fine for the deep colors like red, blue and purple.

    3. Ok, thank you very much.

    4. I just saw white eggs at the Tanjung Bungah Wet Market. They are 70 sen each.


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