Eating chicken feet has been on my list of things I’d like to try but am too…chicken…to try. It’s ranked up there with skydiving and dancing: If I have to, I’ll do it. But I will worry about it until the actual act. Yet here I am, in front of King’s Barbecue House at the International District. Looking through a foggy window at duck, pork…and chicken feet.
I hesitate. Then I continue my walk. Eventually, I find myself circling around some blocks, right back at King’s restaurant. I walk in and ask if they take debit. “No, no,” says a kind lady behind the counter. “What is your debit card?” she asks. I tell her my bank’s name. “Go two blocks, there’s an ATM there.”
Maybe that’s a sign that it’s not chicken feet time.
I continue taking photos of Chinatown. That’s how I’ve always known it, ever since I was a kid. I snap pictures of people playing ping pong at Hing Hay Park, and shop owners straightening up their stores.
In my wanderings, I see an ATM machine. How convenient. I take out cash. I decide to head back to my destiny with them chicken feet.
I once saw the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain eating chicken feet on TV. He’s been my inspiration to open up my mind and discover other foods and to walk in undiscovered territory. Pondering the chicken feet, I wondered, “What would Anthony Bourdain do?” He’d pick up a foot, start nibbling and say, “Mmmmm, this is good.”
Bourdain would be proud of me; I get in line and wait patiently for my turn. I decide to get barbecued ribs, which is a safe order. And I’ll ask for a couple feet on the side. I hope a la carte orders are accepted.
When my turn comes up, I tell the man behind the counter, “It’s hot today!” I need that as an ice-breaker. He grumbled. I realize he probably doesn’t speak English. I wipe my forehead and swish my hand, as a gesture that I’m hot. He’s not amused.
Call it stalling, but I do another ice-breaker, this time at the lady at the cash register. “How long has this business been around?” She says 30 years.
With nothing else to say, I go ahead with my order: A lunch combo with rice, ribs, Sprite, and two chicken feet. The cashier lady looks puzzled. She says that usually, people order more than just two feet. But for me, she’ll make an exception. She grabs some tongs and picks two plumpy feet, then weighs them on a scale. My whole order comes to just under $11.
There’s no tables and chairs for customers. I take the lunch one block to Hing Hay Park. I don’t want to be seen eating; I find a secluded seat. I open the plastic lunch container, open the Sprite, and take a photo of my meal.
I can’t hesitate any longer. This must be done. I pick up a foot, and start nibbling. Not bad. Tastes like chicken! I take another bite. I then notice that I’m not looking at the food I’m looking away as I eat. “Just a few more bites,” I tell myself. Just to prove I can survive this. A bit of disappointment comes over me. Not because the chicken was bad; it’s just that I hardly am tasting any meat. It’s mostly slippery skin. At that point, I turn to eating the ribs and rice.
After a while, my lunch is finished. Did I walk a little taller, more proud of my accomplishment? I don’t feel any different.
I’m just maybe more open to having the next new meal. Or trying skydiving.
— Story and photos by David Carlos