|To Market, to Market to buy a fat hen|
I wonder if Malaysians come to America and think, "Is this it? Is this is the only way to buy chicken?" Like the vast majority of carniverous Americans, I would just go to the grocery store and buy neatly packaged chicken out of the refrigerated case. Who knew that this simple task would have so many variations when I moved over here?
No, it's not the latest Marvel Comics hero. Super Chicken is the term for what Americans think of as Whole Chicken. A Standard Chicken, however, means with the head and feet still attached.
Succulent chicken feet are a Chinese delicacy. In the same way that you may opt for just drumsticks, you can get just feet here. In the mid-80's, my parents in America tried to start a business exporting discarded chicken feet from the U.S. to Hong Kong. Tyson Chicken informed them that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not permit chicken feet for human consumption, thus thwarting their plans. Then, Wal-Mart successfully lobbied the FDA to change the rule so that they could export chicken feet to their stores in China. True story.
Wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray
Yup, you can go to the grocery store in Malaysia and buy chicken this way, too. For the most part, this is my default method. But the inventory is small, and sometimes all that's on the shelf is drummettes or wings. Another time, my car smelled of Death when I got home, and the odor was definitely coming off the chicken despite the fact that the expiration date hadn't hit.
|Sometimes, I'll get lucky and tongs are available for handling the chicken.|
Buy it in bulk
At Tesco Hypermart, carts in the middle of the aisle will be piled high with chicken. On the day I took this picture, ice was layered between the pieces. Most times, however, a only the pieces on the bottom are being chilled with the upper 12 inches of the pile just exposed to room temperature. In this situation, I'll grab the pieces directly off the ice. If you think Jenga is hard, try dislodging slippery, raw chicken from the foundation of a tall poultry tower without causing the whole thing to tumble down. Just scoop it up, dump it in a plastic bag, and bring it over to the Weigh Station for the price sticker. Do not dare go to the Checkout without stopping at the Weigh Station first. Hint: Dig the hand sanitizer out of your purse before your hands are covered with raw chicken juice. I learned this one the hard way.
At the Wet Market (top picture)
The Wet Market supposedly has the freshest chickens. It's also the place with the most abundant supply and with the most customers. The chicken is slaughtered and plucked that morning, then brought to the market. Have I mentioned that the market is open air and unairconditioned? The chickens are laid out on tile counters, typically without the benefit of ice or refrigeration.
I must confess that I waited until a good friend had purchased chicken here for weeks without falling ill before I was willing to give this a try. When I did, my friend in Singapore commented that I had really embraced SE Asian life. I only buy chickens here if I can arrive early in the morning before they've sat out in the heat for too long.
The chicken stall at the Wet Market is similar to a butcher shop. You tell the vendor which pieces you want, and he'll cut it up for you. You get the discarded bits in the bag, too, because they weigh the entire chicken before taking a knife to it.
Some markets bring the chickens in alive and then slaughter them on site. Now that's fresh! The only way to get your poultry fresher is the way my mom did it as a kid. Go into the yard and do it yourself right before cooking.
My local market doesn't slaughter chickens there, so I was naive and unsuspecting when I was at another market and wandered into a room labeled "Chicken." I must not have noticed the clucking noises or else I would have anticipated what I would witness. I've always imagined chicken slaughtering as either the complex machine in Chicken Run or else with a butcher knife raised high in the air before coming down on the chicken's neck laid upon a chopping block. Not in Malaysia.
Since the majority of the population is Muslim, chicken must be killed following Halal protocol. Halal is the dietary rules of Islam, similar to Judaism's prescription of Kosher rules. [If you're the squeamish type, stop reading!] When I walked in, two people were holding the live chicken in mid-air and one of them was holding the knife. With the both the slaughterer and the chicken's head pointing towards Mecca, the long blade was drawn across its neck, slicing through the jugular vein and windpipe but not the spinal column. During this process, they murmur a prayer to Allah. Some of my devout Christian friends wonder if it's permissable for them to consume halal chicken since it's been killed in Allah's name. Causing minimal pain to the animal is imperative. The chicken is then drained off all blood before butchering. I did not buy chicken this day.
As long as I'm here, I'll continue trying out the various ways to obtain chicken. But when I return to America with its sanitary chicken supply far divorced from the reality of slaughter, I'll be as happy as a rooster in a hen house.