Chicken feet dim sum, aka "phoenix claws".
‘Phoenix claws’ are one of the most intimidating yet intriguing dim sum. (Photo Credit: Heather Tucker)

Have you been tempted to grab a dish of chicken feet at your favourite dim sum restaurant but haven’t a clue how to eat them? To a dim sum newbie, those braised chicken feet sticking out of a small dim sum basket can look quite intimidating. A million questions may pop in your mind: What part of the foot is edible? Do I cut it or just gnaw on it? And where exactly should I begin? I hope you will find an answer to all your questions here.

I’m just going to say this out loud here – there’s really no graceful way to eat chicken feet. So if you are at a dim sum restaurant with a date, do not – I repeat, do not – order them.

Chicken feet are considered quite a delicacy in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. A quick search on Google will bring you many recipes from around the world. My personal favourite is the Cantonese-style chicken feet dim sum. They are braised and marinated in a thick black bean sauce and garnished with red chilli slices and chopped spring onions. The preparation of this dish is time consuming. In short, the feet are cooked in a three-step process: deep frying, braising, and simmering in sauce. 

The deep frying is not so much about getting the feet crisp as the braising/simmering processes will remove any crispness anyways. The deep frying actually makes the skin puffy and the cartilage gelatinous. Hence, it makes it easy to separate the cartilage from the tiny bones – something chicken feet newbies are thankful for. The surface of the feet turns tender and wrinkly (think of the surface of a prune) so it can pack in all the flavours from the sauce that the feet are bathing in. 

Tips for Eating Chicken Feet:

  • You will want to use chopsticks or your hands to eat chicken feet as they give you a good grip. 
  • The rule of thumb is: Anything, except the bones and nails, is edible.
  • So now, get ready to dig in:
    • Get a good grip of the foot.
    • Start by biting off the toes between the joints, one toe at a time. For chicken feet newbies, maybe one joint at a time to start with.
    • While having the joint(s) in your mouth, chew off the skin and suck at the bone (don’t forget to enjoy the yummy sauce in the meantime).
    • Then spit the bone(s) out.
    • Repeat the above on the remaining toes/joints.
    • Now you can move on to that little pad on the foot, the ‘fleshiest’ part. Just like how you work the joints, chew off the skin and suck all the cartilage off the bone. Experienced chicken feet eaters may pop the whole thing in their mouth, but it’s okay to just gnaw on it until all the skin and cartilage are devoured. 
    • If your chicken feet come with a bit of leg, just bite and chew on it until only a bone is left.
    • Voilà, now you can call yourself a chicken feet expert!
  • If you have chicken feet at a dim sum restaurant, I suggest that you use the chopsticks in one hand (your dominant hand) to grab the foot and hold a Chinese spoon in the other hand to spit the bones into. As you are often given a small bowl and plate at dim sum restaurants, you can discreetly discard the bones from your Chinese spoon onto the little plate. You can even try to keep the bones out of sight from your dim sum company by tucking them behind your bowl. But if you’re consuming many chicken feet, don’t worry too much about hiding the bones as that little bowl will struggle to hide them all.

Did You Know?

  • Many experienced chefs actually use chicken feet to make stock as they make a fine golden broth that gels beautifully.
  • Chicken feet dim sum is called 鳳爪 (‘Phoenix claws’) in Hong Kong. There are two popular types: the sweet and sour chicken feet, and the braised chicken feet. The sweet and sour chicken feet are also called 白雲鳳爪 (‘White cloud phoenix claws’) because of their white colour. Their texture is a bit firmer than the braised ones, so they could be more challenging for chicken feet newbies.
  • Other than being very tasty, chicken feet also have some cosmetic benefits. As they contain lots of collagen, Asians believe that consuming chicken feet will give them youthful looking skin. That’s why this chicken feet & peanuts soup is the go-to soup for Chinese women who long for a glowing skin complexion.

Check out how this chicken feet newbie from The Vagabond Project gave chicken feet a shot in Hong Kong.

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).

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4 Responses to "How to Eat: Chicken Feet"

  1. Danielle  22/12/2016

    I absolutely LOVE chicken feet. You are right though, there is no real graceful way to eat them. I have to admit, sometimes I even have trouble with the chopsticks (those buggers are slippery!), so I just use my hands. I’m not ashamed 🙂

    Reply
    • Anna de Waard-Leung  24/12/2016

      There’s no shame in using your hands – better than having a foot flying off your plate! 😉

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The Chinese New Year Candy Box Demystified | Travel Gluttons

  3. James  09/09/2017

    Pro tip: Don’t wait until you are on the date with the chicken foot hanging out your mouth as you chew through the bones and toenails to look up this article…

    Reply

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