I Ate Chicken Feet

“I hope it doesn’t rain too hard,” Shu-Huei said, shivering as we boarded a water taxi to Chinatown on Saturday. The thunder boomed.

We optimistically sat on a bench in the prow so we could see all the buildings as the boat chugged north on the Chicago river. The baby and I were in Chicago for six days this past week, along with two million other extra visitors. They went to see the Air and Water Show; we came to do research and conduct interviews related to my book.

The young man who sold us tickets smelled of alcohol and slurred his words. Soon sheets of rain pounded the boat. Though the windows have rain-proof coverings that can be unrolled and snapped into place, and though the half dozen passengers huddled together, umbrellas useless against the onslaught of rain, the drunk boatswain did not reappear until it was time to debark.

Since the stroller was soaked, I carried the baby. We waited for the rain to abate under a pagoda and then gave up, hurrying the five blocks to Chinatown, which has covered sidewalks, and getting completely drenched.

Shu-Huei and Baby Leone wait for a water taxi to go to Chinatown

This is fun, I don't mind waiting, but why can't I just jump in the water?

Shu-Huei took us to her new favorite dim sum place, Shui Wah. It was packed with Asian customers talking loudly and sharing steaming bowls of delicious-smelling food.

I ordered chicken feet!

I didn’t know you could eat chicken feet.

They were served fried with small tangy black beans.

They’re bony.

You nibble the meat off trying not to think about where the chicken was walking and if the feet had been thoroughly cleaned. (If you raise chickens or have a neighbor who does, you know why one tries not to think about this…)

I saw other diners dexterously separate the meat from the bone using the edge of a chopstick. I was much more clumsy!

We also ordered:

Fried turnip cakes: these are square and a bit gelatinous and shockingly delicious.

Steamed pork buns: Shu-Huei makes a whole wheat variety from scratch. Being Jewish and having been a vegetarian for twenty years, I’ve never bought pork except in the form of bacon, but just thinking about how delicious the pork buns were makes me eager to try making them.

Shrimp dumplings

Chive dumplings

Chinese broccoli

Tripe: I’m not sure I even know what tripe is but it crunched rather grittily between my teeth and had little flavor to compensate for the gross texture.

Curried cuttlefish

Sharkfin dumplings: sharkfin is considered very healthy in China. I felt a bit guilty eating such a noble and ferocious animal-the same way I might feel eating lion meat, say-but these, too, were scrumptious.

The tripe I couldn’t eat.

Shu-Huei happily ate the tripe. Neither of us liked the cuttlefish though-too rubbery, and I fear the Chinese are not known for their prowess at making curry (that was my gentle way of saying the sauce sucked.)

The main walkways in Chicago's Chinatown have covered sidewalks

After brunch it stopped raining so hard so we peeked in the windows of other restaurants

The air in Chicago was much cooler after the thunderstorm and the baby’s curly hair turned into frizz. There’s no good dim sum in the small town in Oregon where we live. The last time I had good Chinese food was three years ago, with Shu-Huei. This is why it’s good to be broke and barely ever go out to eat. When you do, the meal is truly memorable.

Ready to eat chicken feet? Have you eaten any really strange (to you) foods? Have your kids? More about kids and adventurous eating later this week when I’ll be posting do’s and don’t’s of going out to eat with kids.

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Categories: food.


  1. Dagny Zoega

    I was once served a “Swallow’s nest” at a London restaurant. I think it was just that: A Swallow’s nest. Somewhere in the middle of it I found some bony meat but it had feathers and something unrecognizable around it. I had a bite of the meat, chewy but tasted OK, but the rest of the dish – well, it went back to the kitchen untouched ;D

  2. David T.

    I loved reading this review of your visit, Jennifer! You are braver than I am with varieties of dim sum. Sorry I haven’t gotten to meet you yet, but next time, I hope!

  3. Shark’s fin is a no-no 🙁 The harvesting of them for their fins is seriously threatening the population and WWF and others are engaged in serious efforts to try to get people to stop buying this dish!!!!!

  4. — Nice to see the Chicago River. My wife and I were there in 2008 and took the same tour as you. We stayed dry. Amazing tour of the buildings.
    — Haven’t tried chicken feet. I HAVE had tripe, too many times to count. In my Mexican American household, it was a main ingredient in menudo, a soup that also includes hominy, chile powder, oregano and sometimes pig’s feet. Some folks add raw onion to their menudo. It’s considered a surefire way to deal with a hangover.
    — BTW, tripe is the stomach lining of the cow. I know. Yum.
    — All this makes me hungry. Gotta do dim sum sometime. No sharkfin dumplings or soup for me.

  5. Kimberly Ford

    Reminds me of the time my husband got a lengua/tongue burrito at a local taqueria by accident. He wanted authentic! He said it was okay. A little chewy. And the taste buds (not his) weren’t that appealing.

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