Call them walkie talkies or phoenix feet – chicken feet are a healthy treat

Popular Chef, Nono Ntshali's chicken feet dish which is a distinctive Mzansi delicacy.

South Africa's diverse food history, like our unique takes on preparing chicken feet, is one of the things that unify a divided country. Photo: Supplied

South Africa has a distinctive food culture and a world class collection of traditional meals. Biltong, bobotie, gatsby, bunny chow and amagwinya (vetkoek) are all favourites. But a distinguished one in the lot is definitely chicken feet – you either love it or cringe at the sight of it.

This almost-indigenous South African cuisine is also known as “walkie talkies” or “runaways.” Chef Thembeka Sibanyoni says she grew up knowing this classic township favourite as a cheaper meat option. Nowadays some buy it as a snack.

“A week would never go by without eating them. I remember on Sundays at my grandma’s we used to eat slaughtered chicken and the chicken feet were always mine.” She adds: “I still enjoy them though, the bones are also yummy and juicy.”

When Sibanyoni was recently featured in Food For Mzansi’s Mzansi Flavour she shared a chicken recipe, but using the wings, not the feet. Try her recipe for Spicy Tika Wings.

Food For Mzansi’s resident nutritionist, Andrea Du Plessis, says chicken feet are highly nutritious.

“They carry lots of flavour, and chicken feet are particularly rich in collagen and chondroitin sulphate. Those are important nutrients for healthy joints and healthy skin. Individuals who suffer from joint injuries and arthritis will definitely benefit from eating chicken feet, due to the effects of both the chondroitin sulphate and collagen.”

Although chicken feet are commonly served with vegetables or soft pap, gravy, and some atchar, they are also a great addition to broth. It makes a beautiful savoury liquid that is a great base for soups and sauces.

On the more trendy side, a kota (quarter loaf of bread hollowed out and filled back in, similar to a bunny chow) filled with chicken feet or the chicken feet salad are newer editions to the South African cuisine.

Chicken feet dishes are a delicious and nutritious way of not wasting any parts the chicken, and we in Mzansi are not the only ones who have discovered this clever pleasure. There are delicious versions the world over. Here are some of our favourites:

Jamaica’s Lady Fingers

I say kudos to Jamaica for giving chicken the most accurate description, lady fingers. Jerk chicken may be this Caribbean country’s most famous chicken dish, but it is their version of foot soup that have us interested.

The soup is slowly cooked over pimento wood and features pumpkins, carrots, yam, green or yellow banana and spices. The dish is cooked for a minimum of two hours. The Jamaicans also enjoy curried chicken feet.

Caribbean resident, Kaoma Fernandez, says there’s no particular way in which chicken feet is cooked and presented, but many locals enjoy it. “Each country in the Caribbean prepare chicken feet differently,” he says.

Chicken feet are particularly rich in collagen and chondroitin sulphate which are important nutrients for healthy joints and healthy skin.

Phoenix Claws from China

Chicken feet is enjoyed by the Chinese, but they call it “phoenix feet”.  According to Food For Mzansi contributor Lindsay Jephtas, who is based in China, phoenix feet or claws represent luck and good fortune for the locals. He says that Chinese people believe that eating a lot of chicken feet can bring one a huge fortune, since the diner will have more than two hands with which to grab money.

“Chinese people also don’t believe in wasting any part of the animal and therefore eat the feet of the chicken too,” Jephta says.

Typically deep fried and steamed to make them puffy before being stewed, people in China have their own taste and preference about the way they want to enjoy chicken feet.

He says some prefer it to be steamed, whilst others would rather have it as a street snack or nibble on it while watching television.

Chicken feet tend to be quite expensive in a fancy restaurant, but it is packed and sold in most groceries and supermarkets in China to prepare at home. This delicacy is also cooked with raw peanuts to make a tasty thin soup.

Indonesia’s Baby Food

In Indonesia chicken feet, described as the “the claw” by locals, is served in a soup dish called Soto. Soft peeled boneless chicken feet are also fed to babies between 6 and 12 months old.

Another popular way to serve this delicacy in Indonesia is by deep frying it and serving it as a crispy snack, Kripik Ceker (chicken feet crackers).