An insight into Dushipai Pickled Chili "Phoenix Talons" (都市派 山椒凤爪)
So we've all seen them—plastic wrapping in an array of different colors, flavors and sizes with screaming Chinese characters glaring out at you in a technicolored bombardment of the senses. Do we dare put their contents in our mouth? I'm talking about those not-so appetizing packaged foods we see littered around Chengdu's market stalls, subway shops and street vendors. The endless shelves of packaged foods Chengdu has to offer can sometimes be overwhelming. This column will reveal, one snack at a time, what is available, and invite you to brave the unfamiliar.
Under the spot-light this week; Dushipai Pickled Chili "Phoenix Talons" (都市派 山椒凤爪), picked up from Tongzilin subway station. Having previously sampled only the more familiar or "boring" cuts of chicken (breast or leg), I thought it about time to dig into China's penchant for chicken's feet. This pack certainly grabbed my attention with its' bold promise that "eternal happiness is in eating a bag every day." Particularly bold, considering the warning beside the slogan—" Irradiated food product"—indicating that this product has been treated with ionizing radiation in order to kill micro-organisms, viruses, and insects. Irradiation is a process that, due to concerns about consumer safety, has been marginalized in the western world, particularly in the EU where regulations prevent its usage on all food types except "spices."
Back to the feet: They appear as a bag of single claws (two or three chickens' worth), with the nails removed and looking like they might be suffering from jaundice. Their rubbery texture is punctuated by touches of sliminess that leave an unpleasant odor on your fingers. As I bite down on them, the claws tend to buckle and snap, and splinters of ligament and cartilage cram themselves into every crevice of my mouth where they remain for a distressingly long time.
Initially, it is the pickled vinegary flavor that overpowers my taste buds and covers any hint of chicken taste there was to be had from a claw. But after a few seconds, a surge of heat hits the back of my mouth as the chilies take effect. It is a somewhat detached and artificial sensation, which does not really blend with the other flavors.
So, the positives. Errr ... well, they're cheap! Plus, the more succulent part of the claw is definitely the skin. The skin contains most of the flavor, and is easily torn away from the less appetizing parts of the claw, that you may wish to avoid. However, I cannot imagine one 80g packet would provide much relief for a rumbling stomach if you eat only the skins.
If "eternal happiness is in eating a bag a day," I will happily suffer the misery of another pack of Pringles.
Serving suggestion? Well if this review has not completely put you off sampling pickled chili chicken feet, I would suggest covering them in tomato ketchup - a popular choice for masking the bland taste of even western fast-food that has similarly worryingly low levels of real meat.
Dushipai Pickled Chili "Phoenix Talons" (chicken claws)
Produced by Chengdu City Longfu Food Co. Ltd. 成都市隆福食品有限公司