GUANGZHOU, China —I’m really sorry to any “foodies” I offend with this column. I readily admit I have the eating habits of a 12 year old, and I’m fine with that. My friends joke that I eat nothing but pizza, pop tarts and chicken fingers.
It isn’t actually a joke.
That being said, I was pretty excited to experience authentic Chinese food. Before this, the closest I had come was whatever Columbia delivery restaurant I happened to have a coupon for that week. So I couldn’t wait to try real Chinese food. And I was actually going to expand my horizons and try new food that I previously hadn’t tried because I thought it sounded disgusting or it just wasn’t my thing. As anyone who knows me can attest, that’s a huge deal.
And then I got the feet. Yep, you read that correctly. Feet.
Chicken feet to be precise.
Raw chicken feet to be even more precise.
A group of students and I were wandering around downtown Guangzhou on Sunday, Chinese time (It was nighttime Sunday in China. So I think that means it was Saturday in the U.S.) and decided to try a local restaurant. It was a pretty small restaurant, clearly not a chain, more like a neighborhood place. Greg Bowers, the Missourian sports editor and the faculty member who accompanied the eight Missourian journalism students on this trip to China, recommended that we try to find restaurants with pictures on the menu so that we know what we’re ordering.
It was good advice in theory. However, this place had no pictures on the menu. It also had no English on the menu and no English-speaking waiters on staff. That’s where everything went wrong, and probably how we wound up with the feet.
We were thinking about going somewhere else, but we had two very cranky, food-deprived girls in the group, myself included, who just needed to eat. I think the guys were starting to panic about how they were going to deal with us.
The wait staff found an incredibly nice diner in the restaurant who spoke some English, and she helped us navigate the menu. We ended up ordering chicken, beef and noodles.
I should mention that this was the type of restaurant where they bring you the raw food to the table and you cook it in a big pot of boiling water that sits in the middle of the table. I didn’t fully take that fact into consideration at the beginning of this process.
The staff brought out the chicken first, and it is a legitimate chicken. There are two feet — two raw feet — just flopping around on the table, a heart and liver. And all of its juices sliding around the plate. We all just stared at the plate for a minute, not quite sure how to proceed. None of us had ever cooked feet before.
We weren’t even bothered initially, though I would later become somewhat upset, by the heart that was sitting in the middle of the plate. It was just those feet sitting there all pink and raw and wilting and I swear they were watching us; I’m not sure how, but they were.
After that meal I thought my explorations into Cantonese cuisine were over. But the next night we went to a very nice restaurant, and I ended up trying black fungus and goose. So I guess all’s well that ends well. But there were chicken feet at this restaurant too.
I swear they’re following me now.
Abby Rogers is an assistant city editor for the Missourian and a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism. She is part of a group of student journalists who are covering the Asian Games from China this month.