By Nadia Vitari
I have always been keen on adventurous traveling and backpacking. Of course, while visiting a new country, getting to know its culture and peculiarity has much to do with exploring its cuisine too, for as absurd as the food might appear to us at times.
I was presented with a real challenge while I was traveling in Asia, specifically in China, but I later on found out that the dish I am about to introduce to you is also very popular in Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. Not only that, it seems to be popular in South America, Eastern Europe and South Africa as well.
So what are we talking about? Chicken feet (or claws)!
As they are so largely consumed it might be valid to say that they are just a delicacy we don’t quite understand!
While in China, I came to understand that chicken claws are served in a variety of ways, in eclectic salad preparations, as a beer snack, fried or roasted finger snack and in soups! To be honest, speaking of my personal experience, I found that not only do they look gross while they are in your plate, but even to the palate they are not so yummy. Basically the only edible part is made of mostly skin and tendons, so the texture is cartilaginous, gelatinous and gummy. Yes, it’s not for everyone!
Not only are they served in restaurants and street stalls, but they are quite easy to find in proper grocery stores too.
To improve their taste and make them puffier, in Hong Kong, they are first simmered in a sauce made with black fermented beans, bean paste, and sugar or in abalone sauce and then stewed and fried. In mainland China popular chicken claw recipes instead use soy sauce, Sichuanese peppercorn, clove, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and chili flakes or alternatively rice vinegar, rice wine flavored with sugar, salt and ginger.
In Latin America, Mexico and Jamaica chicken claws are popular in soups, in South Africa they are preferred grilled and in Eastern Europe they are used to make jelly aspic, while in Korea they are mostly popular as a beer snack! What a versatile appetizer, I might say!
China is a major consumer of chicken claws and for this reason claws are even imported from countries in which they are not considered as ‘human food’ or else duck feet are served alternatively.
Their demand is so high that they are even expensive, at least more expensive than the chicken breast and China is the larger chicken-claw importer in the world after approving direct import from USA in 2001.
Just to give you a perspective on the figures that we are talking about, till about a year ago Hong Kong was the main shipping destination for more than thirty countries, with a total of 420,000 tons of feet for a value of US$230 million!
What is also interesting is that they are appreciated not only as a delicacy but also for the high nutritional value, apparent beauty effects on the skin and Japanese scientists have found that they contain four proteins that can effectively restrain high blood pressure!
So if you ever travel to any of those destinations and feel like adventurous enough to give chicken claws a try, keep me posted on how you like them. I think I still have to work a bit on my taste buds as for me once was more than enough!
About Nadia Vitari
Passionate traveler and backpacker, Nadia comes from the Lake of Como area in Italy (yes, where George Clooney lives!). She moved to Mumbai to work for an NGO. Being Italian and having lived, worked and studied in different countries, she is passionate about food and other cultures, especially anything Japanese! She also loves reading, football and rock music.