It's not gonna kill you.
I’m still annoyed at Natasha Chen because in the 9th grade, she pinched her nose and said “Ewwwww, that’s gross,” as I unwrapped my tuna sandwich. I was affronted, deep down to my still-socially-awkward-13-year old core. I wasn’t affronted in defense of tuna, because no one likes everything, and that’s ok, but calling someone else’s food gross is just plain rude.
I decided then and there that I would never, could never, call anyone else’s food “gross.” It would not only be rude, but it would mean I was closing myself off from what could turn out to be at best, a potentially delicious experience or at worst, a good story. This was, no doubt, the foundation of all of my equal-opportunity-eater bravado, although I will reluctantly admit, when poked with something sharp, that my very American palette means that I approach some things with a few ounces of trepidation. And some things aren't even trepidation-worthy; I'll never eat insects, no matter how fabulous the dipping sauce. But if someone else chooses to, then I can respect that. Because Natasha Chen probably wouldn't.
And when I recently dragged Nick off to deepest Brooklyn for dim sum, Natasha Chen's words still lurked in the dark recesses of my brain pan. In the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown, where nary a word of English is spoken, we found the place we were looking for. After a minor kerfuffle (centered mostly around the fact that neither Nick nor I speak Cantonese), we were sitting at a huge round table, with a Chinese family. We set about pointing and choosing and devouring filmy shrimp dumplings and sticky rice studded with sausage and deep-fried sesame seed balls full of sweet red bean paste. We chomped our way through baked buns overflowing with roast pork and scallion tinged pork shiu-mai. And then, as so often happens at the end of a meal, we were full.
But it all looked so good. Just one more. A cart approached us, with plates of beef wrapped in thick rice noodles and covered in a sweet soy sauce. Yes, please. And a final steaming plate was plunked down in front of us. That’s when I spotted the chicken feet poking out of the noodles.
Now chicken feet are standard fare in China and at authentic Chinese restaurants all over the world. The Chinese family we were seated with gobbled them up by the plateful, even their two-year old happily gnawed away. Asian civilization has survived for millenia, chomping their way through chicken feet aplenty.
But I was having a hard time with this. I reasoned with myself: chicken feet are not what I ordered, so I shouldn’t be expected to eat them. They’re just not something I grew up with. No one will notice if I (the only white girl in the entire establishment) discreetly slide them under the table cloth. Or maybe I can get Nick to create a diversion and I can toss them in my handbag.
The 2-year old across the table eyed me warily. She knew I was, pardon the expression, chicken. I just couldn’t wimp out; it was wrong, it was rude, and Natasha Chen’s words rang in my ears, in that tinny way that voices from past do in movies. I couldn't take responsibility if this kid across the table grew up and thought it was ok to call someone’s tuna sandwich “gross”.
So I ate the chicken feet.
And I survived. There was practically no meat on them and they’re very bony, but the sauce was pretty good. No harm, no foul. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t eat them all, but I was very proud of myself for being open minded. And you know what? They're really not gross at all, once you get past your preconceived chicken foot notions. They taste like chicken.
As we paid the bill and headed out of the restaurant, something struck me: Natasha Chen came from a Chinese family. Do they eat chicken feet? Does she eat them too? Or does she just wrinkle her nose and called them “gross”?