Dissecting Chinatown’s live poultry shops

Wings Poultry

By Julia L. Wong

Growing up in Chinatown, I had always known of the poultry shop on Beach Street. I knew it by the stench when walking past the shop, the squawking of the birds in their cages, and the lines out the door. Presently, the shop on Beach Street is much cleaner and there is an additional shop in the neighborhood: Wings Live Poultry is located on 48 Beach Street and Ming Kee Poultry is on 52 Kneeland Street. Although it was not disclosed how many chickens or ducks were sold in a day, the lines of customers speak for themselves. The morning is the busiest time for business. The shops are also bustling during Chinese New Year and other festival days because of ancestral worship.

Both shops sell a variety of chickens as well as ducks. These include and are not limited to silkies, pullets, white- and black-feathered chickens, guinea hens, partridges, mallard and muscovy ducks. Poultry sizes range from 3 to 6 pounds with prices ranging from $12 to $25, or $2.60 to $3 per pound. In both locations, there were visible menus with pictures and prices, and the cashiers behind the counters readily offer recommendations based on the dish the customer intends to prepare.

Once an order is placed, there is a 7 to 10 minute wait for the chicken to be gutted and cleaned. As customer Lily Yee waited, she explained that live poultry tastes better than the ones sold at supermarkets. “It is fresher, has better flavor and it is sweeter,” she confided.

It was a unanimous agreement amongst the rest of the customers in line. The head indicates the wholeness of the chicken and the freshness, others chimed in. When discussing the different kinds of birds on the menu, Yee noted that in her opinion, the black-feathered chickens taste better than the white ones.

Other customers also expressed how taste is a major factor in their choice of purchasing from the shops. A Haitian customer explained how only live poultry was available in her homeland, and there is definitely a different and better taste than grocery store chickens.

While customers were open to discuss the benefits of live poultry, the employees and the owners of the shops were reluctant in providing information. However, it was revealed that city inspections are unannounced and occur on a regular basis. According to the Massachusetts Poultry Program, there are strict regulations in handling live poultry in order to prevent potential contamination and transmission of avian influenza and other contagious diseases. With this knowledge, I can now confidently order my own chicken and provide advice for those with a fine nose and a sensitive stomach. A dab of Vicks under your nose prior to walking into the shop can make a difference.

MA Poultry program information: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/agr/animal-health/poultry/



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