Friday, August 08, 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

This morning I dragged my sorry ass out of bed at 4.10 am so that I could catch a train at 5.06 in the pitch dark. It was freezing.

It was so early, there were only seven of us on the platform catching the train into the city – only the second service of the day. I was off to join
ABC 774 FM's Breakfast celebrations at Federation Square of the impending opening of the Beijing Olympics.

I won the opportunity to enjoy a Yum Cha breakfast as part of the Breakfast Show (with presenter Red Symonds and three dozen or so other listeners and such) by calling the radio station and offering to eat chickens feet (Yum Cha style) live on air during the feast and talk about it. I was pretty excited when they said yes. Having to be there at 5.30 am did put a bit of a dent in it though.

I normally enjoy eating chicken feet – it is quite the delicacy – but I knew that it would get the attention of queasy white-Australians, who still hold many aspects of Asian peoples' food in total horror, and get me a free lunch. Or breakfast.

For all their our pretenses to epicurean cosmopolitanism,
Melbournians still prefer many aspects of Asian food, or for that matter many other cuisines, be sanitised for Anglo palletes. And white Australians still make fun of Chinese, (and Vietnamese) food, with not so veiled jokes about dogs, snakes, bulls 'pizzles' in Vietnamese noodle soup, and chicken feet.

And you know what? I milked it and got a free meal. Not unexpectedly, there were no chicken's feet on the menu for yum cha this morning, nor any sliced tripe with honey and ginger, or any sticky rice in lotus leaf parcels
(I do draw the line at shark's fin, though). These are the kinds of things that Chinese families, and those assorted others who have had their culinary horizons opened beyond Melbourne's pretentions, usually enjoy about Cantonese style yum cha. Pity. Still, I enjoyed myself a lot, and the food was good. And I got to see, and meet, the people behind the voices I hear on air nearly every morning.

I wonder if 774 will offer witchetty grubs at a bush tucker feast next. Would you believe, I ate mangrove worms just the other day?

[Image (cc) by alasam]

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At August 08, 2008 5:18 pm, Blogger parlance said...

Mark, I'm sure you're right that there is a large element of prejudice in the perception that 'other' cultures eat weird parts of animals as food. I know I suffer from it. When I travel, I'll happily chow down on anything served to me as vegetable but I'll push a piece of meat around the plate until I feel sure I know where it came from.


I think there's also an factor of 'cityfication' of people's eating habits. My anglo-celtic parents would eat things that I won't even think about. Haggis, for instance. (My mum was a Scot.) I could go on... lamb's fry, tripe, brains, liver.

I've become a typical city type who doesn't want to know that what she's eating once was self-aware and enjoyed life. If it's a cut of meat that isn't obviously part of an animal - such as a foot! - I feel a little bit better.

And, yes... I agree that it's hypocritical of me...

At August 08, 2008 6:03 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Hmmm...trotters. In my family, there is a dish of pigs trotters that is made for a woman who has just given birth. It's supposed to boost her strength and aid in the recovery.

My mother used to make the best ox tongue pot roast and stew (my childhood favourites), and ox tail stew.

I still have about a kilo of ox tail in my freezer I bought recently – not because I'm squeamish, but because I can't be bothered to cook it for a couple of hours till it's tender…

At August 08, 2008 8:25 pm, Blogger unique_stephen said...

I've eaten grasshoppers, snake, crocodile, goanna, ants, spiders, grubs and Vegemite but passed on the chicken feet. For the same reason that I pass on the osso buco. When I eat meat I push the skin, bones, fat, hair, feathers, gristle etc to the side of the plate. Chicken feet is a distillation of exactly what I don't eat.

Whilst I love Yum Cha I prefer dim sum dishes such as Cha siu baau, har gau, cheong fun, spring roll and shaomai. But I really prefer northern Chinese dishes. MMMMMM Mongolian lamb - mmmmmm

You are right tho' - I don't make a habit of eating outside my comfort zone, which, whilst I would like to think is more eclectic than my parents is predictable modern healthy Anglo city with a spot too much beer.

But, I'm not ashamed to be Anglo Saxon of mixed scotts-irish decent with the inherited culinary legacy of the soldiger, criminal and transported classes as seen through the filter of post depression, post war, battery hen goggles.

At August 15, 2008 12:06 pm, Blogger Kirsty said...

I have eaten chicken's feet at yum cha, out of curiosity, because I am a curious eater. I wasn't especially fussed by them, but nor was I grossed out by them either. They were certainly tastier, I'm sure, than the frozen chicken kiev that the woman in the checkout line next to me last night was buying .

I do think it's disappointing that you were promised chicken feet by the radio station and didn't get them.


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