Thoughts on Chicken Feet

8 May

What motivated these otherwise "ordinary" Australians to eat an entire 'green rice slug'?

Warning: the following post contains graphic imagery and adult themes that may disturb some readers.

What is it about moving to Vietnam that makes an otherwise modestly adventurous gastronomist contemplate the eating of chicken feet?

This is hardly a purely academic question; it struck me as I sat kneeled on the floor in one of Hanoi’s classier restaurants and munched with some trepidation on the fried talon of some unlucky bird specimen. Admittedly, the thought was framed at the time more along the lines of “why in God’s name am I eating this?” but the gist is the same.

For the interest of those who have yet to indulge in this particular delicacy, the experience involves chewing for an indeterminate amount of time on the firm but springy “material” until you realise that there is little-to-no nutritional value to be had or taste to be extracted. At this point you surreptitiously spit it out in as polite a fashion as you can manage into a napkin or the side of your plate. So it’s like gum in a way, if gum was advertised as providing ‘chicken-y fresh breath’.

But the question is not so much whether the act of chicken feet consumption was enjoyable or not, but why I (or anyone in a similar position) would suddenly consider engaging in it just because it is socially acceptable in a foreign land. After all, if someone thrust a bowl-full of fried chicken claws at me at a party in Australia I would probably smile politely and sidle into the next room. It should be stressed as well that this question is not confined only to chicken extremities; I’ve felt similarly perplexed upon finding myself digging into stewed frogs legs (complete with mottled green and blue skin) and a curious village snack that I can only describe as a ‘green rice slug’.*

An interesting counterpoint to this question regards why I should cross ‘the line’ in these regards but draw it firmly at the prospect of eating ‘thit chó’ (dog meat), a common delicacy in Vietnam. It seems vaguely discriminatory to abandon my qualms when it comes to chicken or frogs but maintain a strict culinary embargo on anything canine. An emotive defence would be to say that “dogs are friendly and loyal and apparently my best friend, plus I know a few personally” but I suspect that sceptical types would decry such quibbling as socially constructed hypocrisy – “if you had spent more time patting cows or throwing frizbees to sheep over the years you might hesitate to eat them too”.

Fair enough, but I don’t think that the associations that I have built up (cow – food, puppy – friend) are any less valid for being learned. Perhaps I could unlearn them but I suspect it would take time and a fair bit of convincing.

For the moment I’ll stick to my chicken feet, thank you very much.

* ‘Green rice slugs’ are so named because they are a luminous yellowish-green colour, are probably made primarily from rice paste, and have the look, shape and slimy texture of a particularly large slug. They also feature a curious streak of anonymous black material through the centre of them that may or may not be made from mushrooms but most definitely has the appearance of an intestinal tract. They taste fairly gross.

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7 Responses to “Thoughts on Chicken Feet”

  1. kim wilkinson May 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Yo mikey!

    Chicken feet- I saw these in Borneo everywhere- apparently they are some kind of local delicacy. :S Good to see you’re enjoying yourself and extending yourself! 😛 Have pho for breakfast… everyday. It’s what I would do!

    Can’t wait to see what you will have eaten by the end of your stay!!!

    take care,
    Kimmy

  2. lisaintheworldsomewhere May 11, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    i bet your could find chicken flavoured gum here. In the supermarket you can buy ‘the essence of chicken’ which is a vitamin supplement and supposedly contributes to a ‘healthy body and sharp mind’… i think its more likely to cause manboobs… but then many strange things are supposedly ‘good for your health’ in Vietnam… it might be a 30-legged poisonous centerpede but float it in some rice wine for a month or so and bang… a cure for all that ails ya.

  3. Dino May 13, 2011 at 5:17 am #

    Mike, if someone thrust a bowl of chicken feet in front of you in Australia you would be the first one to try it! I’m glad you’re doing well in Vietnam.

  4. Dylan May 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Mike,

    You clearly had dud chicken feet. I will admit the whole chewing then having to spit it out thing is a little odd but I would argue that they can be tasty. I’m still waiting for a rambling anecdote.

  5. Ingrid June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Hey Michael.

    Somehow I came across this page, and was delighted to read your ‘inconsequential ramblings’. Chicken feet are comsumed quite largely here in South Africa, and can mainly be found in regular butcheries and supermarkets. Despite their abundance, I have not tried them, and do not plan to ever! The way you discribed the texture and flavour is exactly how I would have immagined it. I applaud you on drawing the line with dog meat 🙂

    I have recently contacted a few Ozzies I have met through my travels abroad. I will be in Perth for 3 weeks next month, but I guess there will be no chance of catching up with you- for the obvious geographical reasons. Pity, but very glad to read you continue to trek to even more exotic locations.

    Take care,

    Ingrid

    • Mike Pope December 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      Hi Ingrid,

      Great to hear from you and apologies for the much delayed reply. I think chicken feet are definitely in that class of foods that should be tried once at most and then avoided if possible thereafter. I hope you enjoyed your time in Perth!

  6. Get Rid Of Manboobs May 25, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    I don’t know? In most parts chicken feet is the staple diet of the poor – kinda like a poorman’s protein source. Fried in oil it can hardly be called a delicacy. Sorry, can’t agree.

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