HONG KONG – Saturday marks the start of the lunar Year of the Rooster and families in China will reunite for festivities, fireworks and food. While tradition calls for feasting on "auspicious" foods, many will also munch on staple snacks like "phoenix claws," the Chinese name for chicken feet.
With reptilian looks and lowly status from scratching around farmyards and coops, humble chicken paws are considered a throwaway in the West, where farmers often grind them into feed for pets and livestock. But across much of Asia, where diners prefer eating meat on the bone, they're a considered a delicacy.
"Not only are they tasty, but it's believed they have a lot of collagen so if you eat them it's good for your skin and makes you look beautiful," said Liza Chu, author of a guidebook to Hong Kong dim sum dishes including chicken feet.
At this time of year, Chinese like to eat foods that are considered lucky like dumplings and fish. Chicken feet don't actually have any special meaning for the Year of the Rooster, though that doesn't mean it's not a good excuse to eat them, Chu said.
"We all need some rooster energy. Roosters are energetic. They can be very aggressive. They are not shy," said Chu. Those born in the Year of the Rooster are "very outgoing people."
Chicken feet are of such culinary importance in China that they have even played a role in trade tensions between the U.S. and China, which imports poultry because of production shortfalls. In 2009, the Obama administration slapped tariffs on Chinese tires and Beijing retaliated by imposing taxes of up to 105 percent on U.S. chicken feet.
Two years ago, China banned poultry imports from the U.S. over bird flu, sending chicken-paw producers in other countries racing to fill the gap.
For the uninitiated, chicken feet have a chewy, fatty and succulent texture, bordering on the gelatinous.
In Hong Kong, they're served at dim sum teahouses with garlic, chilli and black bean sauce.
Or they can be paired with a beer while watching football matches, said Leung Kin-keung, who runs a chicken feet stall.
"I grew up eating chicken feet," said Leung. "We were not wealthy" so the family used every part of the chicken, he said.
In Manila, Philippines, street vendors grill skewers of them over charcoal.
"They taste different from ordinary chicken parts. I like eating the bony parts," said Jacklyn Sun. "Chicken feet are delicious to eat."
Associated Press video journalists Josie Wong in Hong Kong and Joeal Calupitan in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.