Sunday, 15 April 2007

...Maketh The Man

I can't remember when I had my first meal of Phoenix Claws but I can certainly recall my first Yum Cha meal in Hong Kong.

On that occasion in a multi-floored restaurant, bemused by the loud vitality of the eatery and not being able to read or understand a word of Cantonese, I summoned up courage and pointed at the first wicker basket atop a passing trolley.

With a deft movement my card was marked both literally and figuratively. A steaming container of Duck's web (feet) was placed in front of me. No other part of the duck was attached to the feet - it was just the webs with no strings (should that be tendons?) attached.

While not the easiest of introductions to Yum Cha I record with pride that I did at least attempt to eat these items. Which brings me to Phoenix Claws - a euphemism for chickens' feet. Evidently, the only real trick to preparing these is that you trim off the toenails first!

I discovered early on that I rather enjoyed this delicacy but one has to choose the company in which to devour these glutinous morsels. A former colleague who once shared a table turned a decided shade of green when he saw me devouring the contents of the small bamboo basket and never again accepted my invitation to Yum Cha.

Over the years I have learnt the staccato skill of spitting the left over bones with unnerving accuracy into my rice bowl. This is the Chinese way. My English mother would have been mortified by such a practice as she drummed into her children the elements of refined English table manners and the removal of bones was neither to be seen nor heard.

It is interesting how living in a different culture brings with it different customs and manners. I am sure that I unintentionally offend through my lack of knowledge in such fundamentals as chopstick etiquette . The reckless placement of these eating utensils is thought to bring bad luck to your fellow diners.

I can assure you that learning to expel a stream of chicken bones into a tiny receptacle can be equally distressing for those who witness it.

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