Chicken Feet (A Study In Food Texture)

Picture: A pile of braised chicken feet, garnished with cilantro. Taken at the Lai Hong Lounge.

To those who didn't grow up eating dim sum, you might ask "Denise, why isn't this in the strange food category?". To all my Cantonese friends, well they'd probably give me the stink eye for even trying to categorize one of their staple dim sum dishes as strange. 

The truth is simple and something most of you already know: The food isn't weird. You just weren't brought up around that specific food culture. 

Depending on our environment, culture, and social status, we are pretty much pre-conditioned to have our preferences wholly dependent on what we ate growing up. Of course, one can branch out and break that pattern, but a person's psyche can be strong enough to just never get over the mouth-feel of other cuisines. 

To give you an example, it's common for traditional Chinese cuisine to have dishes with the consistency of rubber or cartilage. They don't shy away from intestines, gizzards, and other types of offal. In contrast, European cuisine usually has food compositions that usually feel smooth against your tongue, the complete opposite of Chinese cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine has both: pate, baguettes, and Pâté chaud are one of the few common items that carried over from France's colonization. The food with European roots entangle with Vietnam's love for everything coated with herbs, fermented, and sticky, creating one of many cultural fusions that crosses over due to outside influence.

To switch it up, canned ham might seem weird to people who weren't raised with Hormel's SPAM. I know many Americans that aren't too fond of the product, but SPAM was made in America and thrived in areas with prominent military bases. Hawaii has the highest per capital consumption rate due to the GI's that were stationed there, and it's pretty popular with Filipino's as well. SPAM is portable, easy to store, and didn't require refrigeration, making it a big hit for military use, and future zombie apocalypse care packages.

In reality, squeamish people will always be squeamish. Preference of texture is just that— preference. The only way to change your view is to actively make an effort try to make foreign textures and flavors more common on your palate, and most people don't care to do that.

Just remember to be respectful when something looks weird to you. Chicken feet can be gross to look at to some, but to others, it may invoke strong memories of sitting around a Lazy Susan with the rest of their family. Like huge Italian meals, dim sum works the same way. Always family style, relatives arguing over the table, the loud chatter of gossip, and irritating siblings that don't let you rotate the Lazy Susan so you can snag your favorite dish. Something that looks and tastes so foreign can culturally have a very similar vibe to someone with completely different taste buds.

So if before any of my fellow American's say foreign food is weird, just remember we popularized aspic in the 1950's.

And that is something the majority of us universally hate.

Image result for aspic
Pictured above: A gelatin monstrosity only a serial killer would force you to consume.  

1 Comments

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