September 25th, 2009
11:39 AM GMT
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HONG KONG, China - This week, I found myself at a Chinese restaurant, staring, chopsticks in hand, at a basket of steaming chicken feet. How on earth could two economic powers - the U.S. and China - be fighting over these little claws?

China is threatening to cut off imports of American chicken meat and auto parts - a decision made after the Obama administration announced they would act on an existing World Trade Organization rule and slap a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires sold in the U.S.

But is this a real threat? The Chinese love chicken feet (a dish translated as "Phoenix talons") - especially the kind from America. Chef Tsui Kam Tong told me American chicken feet are bigger, meatier and tastier than the rest.

U.S. poultry farmers breed larger birds so they can sell more breast meat. But at home, there is no market for the feet (outside of pet food companies) so suppliers are more than happy to sell them to the Chinese.

The claws are deep-fried to make them crispy then steamed so the cartilage is chewy and soft. The feet are seasoned - typically with black beans and barbecue sauce - and steamed again before serving.

 To eat chicken feet properly, Chef Tsui explained, you have to chew each mouthful slowly to get the flavor out of the skin and cartilage. And don't forget to suck on the bones, he said.

Chef Tsui prepares 40 plates of chicken feet a day. He said cooking the dish wouldn't be the same without claws from the U.S.

Hopefully, Beijing and Washington won't get bogged down in tit-for-tat trade disputes and lose sight of the bigger issues.

Perhaps, both sides should sit down to a dim sum lunch with this Chinese specialty.

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