dim sum

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How to eat chicken feet

David Lang showing the proper method for eating chicken feet. Dangle the toes out of your mouth. Photo by David Lansing.

So anyway, about those chicken feet. You know how you can bite into something like a kogi taco and go, Ohmygod, that is so good!

Well, you’re not going to do that with chicken feet. I guess for some people chicken feet might be comfort food. You know, particularly if you lived on a farm in China and had a hundred chickens running around and you had to feed the chickens and then your dad, maybe once a week, put a dozen or so chickens in a wire cage and took them to the local market to be sold alive, and your reward for feeding the chickens was to have your mom make you steamed chicken feet on Sundays.

But none of that ever happened to me so I don’t have those chicken feet memories. I don’t think Mijune does either.

Anyway, I ate the chicken feet. Not much to it. Little bit of meat around the ankles (do chickens have ankles?) and then you could kind of suck on the toes if you wanted.

David Lang, who moved to Los Angeles from Hong Kong 18 years ago, liked the chicken feet more than I did. He ate several of them.

“You not going to eat more chicken feet?” he’d say. We’d all shake our heads. “Okay then,” he’d say, grabbing for another one, using his chopsticks to stick the skinny leg part in his mouth first so the toes dangled from his mouth like the fingers of a baby’s hand. I think I liked watching David Lang eat chicken feet more than I liked eating chicken feet. But that’s just me.

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The girl with the purple stilettos outside Richmond's Shanghai River Restaurant. Photos by David Lansing.

Laura says, If you’re not too tired when you get to your hotel, go to the Shanghai River Restaurant and get the shrimp dumplings.

Okay, here’s the thing: It’s after eight. You don’t do dim sum at night. You do dim sum in the morning. But I know what she’s getting at. If you want to know if a certain Mexican restaurant is any good, order the chile relleno. If they can do that right (and few can) they can do anything. If you want to know if a dim sum place is any good, order the shrimp dumplings.

When I get to Shanghai River there’s a 30-minute wait. Even though it’s after 8:30. There’s a family of 13 draped across every chair in the lobby so I stand outside, on the sidewalk, next to a stylish young woman with dramatically long legs perched atop purple stiletto heels texting on her phone. She looks up at me. “Waiting for a table?” she asks.

I nod.

“Me too. I’ve been here 20 minutes already. But it’s worth it. I saw Mark Zuckerberg here last October. Eating the Peking duck. You getting the duck? It’s the best.”

“Just the shrimp dumplings,” I tell her.

“That’s it? Shrimp dumplings?”

“I’m not really here for dinner,” I tell her. “I just want to try the shrimp dumplings.”

Shrimp dumplings at the Shanghai River Restaurant. Photo by David Lansing.

“You’re testing them, right?”

I nod.

She hurries inside the restaurant without saying a word and comes back a minute later with the manger on her arm. She says something in Cantonese while pointing at me. The manager nods and waves his arm for me to follow him. The manager and the woman in the purple stilettos take me to a part of the kitchen with a glass wall facing the dining room. Two cooks are pinching together dumplings. The manager says something to the cooks and a few minutes later, I’m presented with a bamboo steamer filled with eight shrimp dumplings and a little dish of XO sauce. I pick up a dumpling with my chopsticks, dip it lightly in the XO sauce, and take a bite.

“Well?” says the woman in the purple stilettos.

“Best damn shrimp dumplings I’ve ever had,” I tell her. She laughs and says something in Cantonese to the manger. He laughs as well.

“What did you tell him?” I ask her.

“I told him you’ll be back.”

And she’s right. I will.

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