One of the things I’ve struggled to come to terms with in China, is just how different real Chinese food is compared to the Anglicised stuff served back home. There’s no popping out for sweet and sour pork (well actually there is, but it’s only found in a Malaysian restaurant), or lemon chicken, or duck in tamarind or any of the other dishes I so loved because they simply aren’t authentic Chinese dishes.
Here in Shenzhen, there are thousands of restaurants to try – serving food from all corners of the country. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really like any of them all that much. Part of the problem is the limited cooking facilities in most Chinese kitchens, which are gas burners and that’s it. So everything is either fried or boiled, or sometimes boiled and then fried just to make sure it’s really dead.
This brings me to chicken feet, a meal so pointless that it’s actually worth examining by itself. My wife loves them; she buys pre-packaged bags of the revolting things covered in oil and chili and sees them as the perfect treat. I loathe them; my first encounter with chicken feet was in an extremely posh Chinese restaurant where my business partner, Philip, and I had been invited to lunch by two rich potential investors in one of our businesses.
I looked down at the delicious smelling bowl of soup and there they were, floating on the top, with all the toe-nails still in place. And compared to the usual tiny claws that seemed to be served everywhere else it appears these fowl had been on steroids up until their demise. The darn things were huge, ridiculous talons of doom, and it was clear that whatever happened we had to appear to enjoy them.
I yanked them out of the bowl and began to nibble off the skin – which was soft and spongy, texturally they were horrible and there was no taste to it whatsoever. Delicately avoiding the blackened nails, I think tried to get some meat from the fragile bones beneath, at which point I learned something new. There’s no meat whatsoever in a chicken’s foot, so not only were these things repulsively ugly, covered in flavourless and nasty textured skin but there’s absolutely no nutrition to be gleaned from them at all.
Sighing with relief I dumped the claw by the side of the bowl and slurped the chicken broth down instead, which was just lovely. I’ve not had chicken feet ever again here, if I want to chew on something disgusting – I think I’ll pick my nose instead.