For many American diners whose ethnicity doesn’t include Chinese, rethinking chicken feet will come only with great difficulty, because they have never thought of eating chicken feet in the first place.
I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, but, being a somewhat intrepid culinary explorer, I have not shied away from trying them myself. To this day chicken feet remain my proof-positive that you can sprinkle five-spice powder on anything and it will taste good.
Lately though, I have been purchasing my chickens from a place down the street that I call ‘pick your own.’ It’s a live-poultry joint and I have reviewed it elsewhere in these pages.
Unless you specifically make a request, your well-cleaned bird is handed to you in a sack with its feet attached. Now, for me that means retrieving the poultry shears and cutting them off.
What I did not anticipate was that, as I cut through the tendons, the little claws would wrap gently around my finger, as if to perch.
That’s when I noticed how sparkling white they were.
So the other day I was having dim sum in Chinatown, and when the chicken feet cart came by, I briefly considered taking some.
As is the common practice in Chinatown, one is seated at a table with others, and there you form a happy band of diners in some fashion, depending on the personalities and the willpower to transcend language barriers for the common merriment.
I was seated across from this gentleman:
He was pretty bleary-eyed for 10am and it the reason for it quickly became clear as he reached into a secret bag, withdrew a flask of cognac and dumped it into his empty teacup. I declined his polite offer to share in the imbibing.
At that point I thought I saw him eat his toothpick and I got a little worried, but it soon returned from its perilous duty to his plate, and all seemed well again.
Just at that point, though, it seemed to me that the moment had reached such an intrinsic level of absurdity, that I was compelled by it to call for the waiter and have the chicken feet brought to me with great haste.
This they were delighted to do.
Then, alas, I discovered the naked truth. There was no five-spice powder on them. It was just feet in all their gristly, greasy glory.