Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don’t Eat the Chicken Feet

If you read Heidi’s post from Monday, you already know a thing or two about this topic. There’s also wearing garlic around your neck to ward off evil spirits. And eggs with two yolks being good luck. Every culture has its food-related superstitions.

In China, they say don’t cut noodles else your life will be cut short. In Judaism, keep something, anything, even a piece of wood, in your oven to avoid going hungry. The Greeks use garlic and sometimes cactus to ward off the evil eye. If you don’t have garlic, you can simply say skorda (garlic) and spit three times on yourself to get the same results. In Japan, don’t stick your chopsticks into your food, especially your rice, because rice with chopsticks stuck into them is traditionally placed at funeral altars. (Side note: I recently started using black sesame seeds for certain East Asian recipes, which worries my mom; black sesame seeds are used only during funerals in India.) The Sudanese sacrifice a sheep on Ramadan and distribute its meat to usher in good luck. Filipinos believe keeping a round grape in your mouth at the stroke of New Year’s is good luck. In Romania, nibbling off the corners of a slice of bread ensures better relations with your mother in-law. Hawaiian fishermen believe that if they carry bananas on their boats, they won’t catch any fish.

In our house, we scoff at such old-fashioned customs, but we follow them anyway. For example, you’ll never find anyone in this house directly passing salt shakers or chilies in any form—cooked, pickled, or raw—to one another as it could cause discord. When someone says, please 'pass the salt' around here, we pick it up, move it near them, and place it down. They can just pick it up themselves.

As well, when we bought our first house, we grudgingly took the advice of elders and boiled milk on the stove so that we would always have plenty of abundance in our home. But then we panicked when the milk wouldn’t boil over as it was supposed to, no matter how much extra we kept adding to the pan. Turns out skim milk doesn’t boil over. Needless to say, there was a quick run to the store for whole milk. (New and old customs don’t always mesh conveniently, right?)

There’s another savory custom that I haven’t yet tried but have seen performed on my kids a time or two. It involves roasting dried red chilies, throwing salt onto them, cooling the concoction for a bit, then pinching them together and circling it around the body of the person from whom to ward off the evil eye (typically, a baby or a bride). Then the chilies and salt are thrown into a burning coconut shell. At least I think that's what they do. There are several variations of this practice, yet I’m hoping burning other ingredients in my kitchen meets the general requirements. If so, my cooking has warded off a lot of evil over the years.

So why shouldn’t you eat the chicken feet? In some parts of Thailand, it’s believed that avoiding them could improve your handwriting. Not sure about this one. I’ve never eaten chicken feet, but my handwriting is mediocre at best.

Do you follow any age-old customs related to food and, if so, were you satisfied with the results?


  1. In our family, we religiously do the red chillies and salt ritual. Whenever my dog gets sick, I think someone put an evil eye on her and ask my mom to take "dishti," which is what it's called in my language. Of course, my dog starts feeling better (naturally), and we attribute it to the evil being warded off. Superstition or not, it's does have a good placebo effect. :)

  2. Oh my, we call the evil eye "dristhi" as well, Lavanya! I thought it was only a Konkani word. Not sure what the etymology is. The Hindi term, "nazar" ("sight" or "look"), makes more sense to me (having to do with the eye).

    Heidi, isn't there a corresponding idea with "chesmeh badeh" (sp?) in Farsi? Chesmeh means glasses in many Indian languages ... I love these cultural intersections.

  3. I think I'm going to adopt a new tradition: burnt food brings good luck. That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it!

    Supriya, chesm in Farsi means eye. And the cheshmeh abi (blue eye) is an amulet in the shape of a blue eye that supposedly wards off the evil eye.

    Nazar also means look, view or opinion in Farsi, depending on the context.