During the Shenzhen Airport project I’ve been pretending to be a food critic, as opposed to historian in Heathrow Heritage. It became inevitable that the subject of chicken feet would arise whenever I dined with my Chinese acquaintances. Considering that communal dining was the maker of deals, I indulged in small talks regarding Western squeamishness about Chinese cuisine until the I began to discover the word on the streets about chicken feet…
One man’s meat – In a well-respected tea-room in Guangzhou, I was introduced to the idea that the only non-counterfitable US import to China was chicken feet. It seemed so rational! Finally an import/export trade that felt more socially inclusive than exploitative but it’s seen as squeezing into the Chinese chicken feet market. I’m sure the demand can keep up, so long as the nibble tradition prevails. In fact, I began to worry about what would be now leftover for dogs & cats… only to be reminded that they too, fall into the recipe. Who knows when the aggressive dogs put down by RSPCA would soon find themselves in a frozen freight container…
Chicken manicure – I was told about a personal recount from an international student in France of failed attempts to maintain Chinese culinary heritage with dignity:
After being delighted with her latest find – cheap chicken feet as scraps from her local butchers, the protagonist merrily gathered a tenacious bag of ingredients ready to marinate in her family recipe. An observation that I’d never come across was that chicken claws were always nail-less. Regrettably narrator was less equipped than the professional chefs in Chinese kitchens so brought out a rather delicate manicure set. Her horrified flatmates watched her nail clip what was eventually 18 delicious fully manicured and moisturised “phoenix-talons”.
De-boning Outsourced – I was introduced to the idea of “boneless feet” after receiving disapproval about my multitask skills between chewing the gelatinous bits around tiny bones of a ‘claw’, discreetly disposing of the bones with my chopsticks, whilst holding a reasonably sensibly conversation. I jumped at the idea, disguising my embarrassment and was rewarded with a conversation that haunts my mental sanity as much as pre-chewed baby foods.
“boneless chicken claw in Sichuan flavour, super spicy. So eat at your own peril.”
“I’m can do spicy” (me)
“It’s not that, it’s the way that they’re de-boned…apparently the women from a few villages GNAW the bones off. They’re well-practiced so the claw-shape is retained”
(I choke in horror)
“That’s why they’re spicy…”