Article body

This latest edition of our CanLit Food series pairs selected passages from Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony with Aliette Mahé's photographs of chicken feet. First up is Jook Liang’s dream of sharing a banana split with Shirley Temple versus the reality of chicken feet for lunch. As Michelle Hartley writes in her own critical analysis of this incident, this is "middle-class whiteness and Hollywood consumer culture" meets "traditional Chinese fare."[1] Mahé’s compositions offer a visual commentary on this moment of tension. Mahé ― who sourced these chicken feet in Montreal's Chinatown ― has long photographed poultry: from quails to chickens, either whole or in part. They are for her a means of narrating the various roles assigned to women, or roles they accept or adopt. What then do we make of Jook Liang wanting, above all, to eat this tough little cut of meat ― that our contributing artist has since bejewelled and manicured?

I pressed my head against one of the fluted porch pillars, leaned my clean dress against its length and listened to the birds chattering in the Douglas fir across the street. I started to daydream about my friendship with Shirley Temple. It was a fact we were both nearly nine years old. If we'd had a chance to meet, it was a fact she would have been my best friend. Besides Wong Suk, I mean. Of course, just as I got into sharing a double banana split with Shirley (and she was just about to tell me how pretty I looked), Poh-Poh's sharp voice intruded.

"Dress all dirty now."

Grandmother pulled me away from the pillar and with her other hand presented a large white plate before my eyes: braised chicken feet and cut-up sausage meat bumped up against a chunk of coarse bread.[2]

I looked up past Stepmother's swelling stomach, at the kitchen counter beside the sink with the pots and pans. Father had splurged on groceries: a bare long-necked chicken's head, freshly killed, hung out of the bag he had carried home. Poh-Poh also unwrapped a fresh fish, its eyes still shiny. Once it was cooked, Kiam and Jung would fight over who would get to suck on the hard-as-marble calcified fish eyes. I wanted the chicken feet. I wondered which part Wong Bak would want.[3]

Figure 1
forme: 1889375.jpg
Photo by Aliette Mahé

Figure 2
forme: 1889376.jpg
Photo by Aliette Mahé

Figure 3
forme: 1889377.jpg
Photo by Aliette Mahé