Beads of sweat coated my forehead as I took a deep breath and stared at what was in front of me, eyes narrowed and concentrated. A million thoughts ran through my mind, and I glanced back and forth from my parent’s concerned faces to the object in my grip. Everything around me seemed to move in slow motion as I pulled it closer towards me, at an angle. That’s when the realization hit. The world around me stopped. Adrenaline rushed through my body as I looked up slowly, shaking, and glanced at my father, who looked just as bewildered as I was. I stared back down, in awe, at my spoon, where the object in question sat. Every little detail on it made sense, like all the pieces of a puzzle coming together. The pruny, contorted chicken foot rested on my metal spoon, it’s pink talons shining in the light of the restaurant, sending chills up and down my spine.
FINALIST 2015 FTF TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The clouds were especially low that day, though this was not unusual in the highly elevated hills of the Peruvian Sacred Valley. Urubamba bustled with activity — cars honking, stray dogs barking, music playing. My father, leading my family through the winding street, ducked into a small restaurant with a tiny sign above that read “Los Toldos Chicken.” This was definitely what would be considered a “hole-in-the-wall” kind of restaurant. There were no menus, no “please wait to be seated” signs, just a few small wooden tables and a TV in the corner with the soccer channel on. Keeping an open mind and just glad to be out of the heat, I popped the lid on my can of Inca Cola and waited to be served the “traditional three-course meal” the sign out front had promised.
I watched a pretty girl with long, glistening black hair carefully approach our little wooden table, balancing a large tray of four white bowls on her arm. Upon receiving a bowl, I gazed speculatively at it’s content. My father, in his broken Spanish (brought to you by his Google Translate) attempted to inquire about what kind of soup it was, but to no avail. The girl just smiled genuinely and went back to her duties. I leaned over my bowl, staring at the three chunks of what I assumed were pieces of meat, soaking in a yellowish liquid. I spent a few minutes eating around this meat, but my curiosity could not be contained. I scooped a chunk up onto my spoon, and inspected it cautiously.
The realization came out of nowhere, hitting me like one of those superfast Japanese trains, leaving me both relieved and baffled. This soup wasn’t just any regular chicken soup; this was chicken foot soup. I relayed the news to my family, and each of their reactions is something I’ll never forget: initial disgust, surprise, and inspection followed by laughter. None of us had the guts to taste the lumpy feet, but even after our main courses of chicken and rice, they continued to be the topic of our conversation.
These chicken feet taught me so much more than any book or class ever could. Looking back, I am struck with a strong admiration for the feet; they represented the beauty and diversity of the Peruvian people, and, to this day, remind me how truly incommensurable each and every worldly culture is. The world is a vast, undiscovered, amazing place. With the sharing of culture through food as interesting and diverse as its creators, one may broaden their outlook on life and the world as they once knew it.
No matter how much one is accustomed to familiarity, there will always, inevitably, be a surprise lurking in the strangest of places which can completely alter one’s life. I found my huge, life changing, lesson-teaching, mind-broadening surprise soaking in a small bowl of chicken soup, and I could not be more thankful for it.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.