It's not uncommon to see a chicken in the manic Hanoi traffic, scratching in a drain or legging it across an alley, clucking and comical. Keeping chickens in this highly urbanised and densely populated city is still quite a typical practice. On a daily basis I see them riding pillion on motorbikes to market, squashed and squawking in cages and, indeed from market, individually, more subdued or dead
In specious random 'stickyrice surveys', on the question "have you ever killed a chicken?", the vast majority of respondents say yes. Those who respond no do so with the qualification "but I have helped to hold it down." Remember that Hanoi is essentially made up of folk from the provinces, where the farm may not yet be one full generation removed. These people know how to tie a good knot, lead a buffalo to graze, light a blazing fire and take a chicken through its last life stage and onto a plate. A genteel 'Hanoian', not to mention a city-boy foreigner would likely be all thumbs (or minus them) attempting any one of these practical tasks.
Chickens normally get it in the neck. There is no axe, chopping block or chicken running headless into backyard palings here. Precision is required to puncture the main artery so as to make it quick for the bird and to get a spurting flow of blood into a waiting bowl. Stark and messy in the bowl, this is the first of many products to be obtained from the killing. After feathers are plucked, normally with the assistance of hot water, the bird is gutted and cleaned. Hearts, giblets, kidneys and lungs are recovered. Hens' bits like fallopian tubes and partly formed eggs eventually make it to table, too. In fact, in phở gà houses lòng trứng non is an expensive side option to the standard soup.
The feet, neck and head are also paid respect. Chickens are important on ceremonial occasions in Vietnam, often placed on family altars as an offering to ancestors on death anniversaries and on other important days in the lunar calendar. After emerging from a simmering pot, in a procedure not unlike trussing, the bird is manipulated into a dignified pose on the plate, upright and proud as if it were still alive, wings in the flapping position. One foot is sometimes broken from the cooked bird and presented at the fortune teller's for a reading in a tradition known as bói chân gà (predict foot of chicken). The way the claws have curled and the markings on the skin can determine events to befall the family in the next lunar month or year.
Any good news is way too late for the chicken, of course. Whole flocks are being taken to with sharp implements in the markets, homes and restaurants of Hanoi as I write.
So, though chickens are often the subject of ridicule in life, in death, at least in Vietnam, they are accorded a degree of appreciation for the many edible parts they provide and the functions they fulfil.