Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Chicken Dance

Mood: ON.
Listening to: Billionaire – Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars

India has come a long ways from the way it was when I came back in 2005. There are grocery stores now. I see some people scoffing in the back of the room, but seriously. There used to be only small markets, veggie sellers, meat sellers, and assorted small shops that specialized in certain things – office supplies for example. This is becoming less and less common as India continues its slow but certain march towards sanitation and westernization. My apartment is a part of a huge compound on the north side of the city. We’re not at the edge of civilization, but we’re darn close. All around the edges of the city (whenever you happened to draw the lines) the city has been slowly, or not so slowly, expanding to swallow whatever happened to be at the edges. Sometimes this includes villages. It’s good fun to live in the city, yet find a completely uncivilized neighborhood that is clearly still a village. One such village is situated right behind my house and I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the way that I remember India from the last time I came and the idea I have in my head about how India used to be in the old days. We do have a grocery store that I use on a regular basis. However, I get great enjoyment from using the small, local shops that are slightly closer. 

Our grocery store is notably lacking in anything resembling protein from a live animal. That’s right folks, no meat or fish. Fortunately for me, there’s a chicken shop just down the street. One day, I decided it was about time for us to eat some protein, and decided to check it out. Now, in case any of you were thinking of sanitized pink meat in a nice Styrofoam package shop, let me disabuse you of that notion. This is the type of chicken shop that has cages lining the wall of live chickens. This is the type of shop where you tell the (very amused because I’m a different color than the locals) guy behind the counter that you want either a certain amount of chicken or a whole one. The type where he gets your approval for the weight of a specific chicken and then hauls it behind the counter where its head is summarily hacked off and it is left to flop around in a bucket until the blood is drained out. The type where you are vaguely uneasy as you walk home with warm chicken, because everyone who grew up in the US knows that chicken should NEVER be warm (we hate us some salmonella!), even though you know it’s because the animal was still living not 20 minutes ago.

I have a complicated relationship with this shop that I visit on a regular basis.
On the one hand: You cannot get much fresher than a chicken that was alive 20 minutes ago. I would venture to say that any chicken in the US supermarket has been dead WAY longer than that. I like freshness. I’m also a fan of natural chickens. No one is feeding these chickens antibiotics or pumping chicken meat full of saline to increase the weight. What you see is what you get. As a result, the chicken is much stronger tasting here. It tastes like chicken. I like the butcher. He’s always pleasant and gives me a chicken that doesn’t look diseased beyond recognition. I don’t have any qualms about him killing the chicken; a chicken will die either way if we’re going to eat one.
On the other hand: It’s a back country chicken shop. Although they do seem to try, hygiene is sketchy here at best. This is why I only get a whole chicken that is killed fresh in front of me. I am so not trying to get ebola from a chicken shop (ok, so I think I was looking for e.coli here, but still) Another thing is that while the butcher will skin the chicken for me (always ask for this – why pay for skin if you don’t really want it anyhow?), he does not debone the chicken. This leads to ten bazillion little bones breaking apart in the curry and requiring a lot of digging before you can eat your food without being afraid of accidentally eating one and it getting stuck in your throat. It’s annoying.

I like the fresh, tasty chicken, especially in byriani form.


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