Head Over Pigs' Feet // Where the Chinese & French Agree to Disagree


I've been looking forward to pickles and pig's feet, but not for the same reason as Melissa Clark. In Pigs' Feet That Don't Step on Anyone's Toes, Melissa writes about Choucroute, pig's feet and pickles (in this case, sauerkraut). It's a peasant dish of "undesirable" meat, cheap vegetables, and bracing vinegar. It's not labor intensive or complicated. Pigs' Feet and Pickles -- the quintessential homestyle meal.

Well, maybe not...Flip from Alsace to Asia, and you'll find a similar dish, but with a totally different function. In a couple weeks, I'll be visiting my cousin and his wife as they celebrate their new baby's 100th-day birthday with a selection of curative "confinement foods", including Pigs' Feet with Ginger and Black Vinegar (猪脚姜 (zhū jiǎo jiāng).

Now, many of the world's foods seem disparate, yet converge around the same idea. Take dumplings and tamales -- different starch, meat, way of cooking. But those are outweighed by their more spiritual similarities -- the little present, the camaraderie of wrapping, the convenience. Most of the world's archetypal foods like custards (creme brulee, flan, dan tat) or meatballs (keftedes, polpettes, koftas) converge on similar feelings and functions.

Yet this is an example of divergent cuisine! To the French, Choucroute is a penny-pinching dish. To the Chinese, Pigs' Feet and Vinegar is a tonic and gift, usually from a protective mother to her ginger-ed out daughter. New mothers must eat this dish during the 30-40 days after childbirth to rebalance their bodies. It is a recipe of effort, not convenience, of yin/yang-altering medicine, not easy eating.

We all know what it means to "break bread", but what does it mean to eat pigs' feet and pickles? An exciting question to ponder!