Live poultry markets are the kind of grocery store where your dinner is walking around when you arrive. They are more common than you think -- New York has more than 70.
When you enter a live poultry market, you see hundreds of animals in cages, clucking contentedly. Sometimes there are pigeons, which look no different than those in city parks. Some even have rabbits -- white, fuzzy, nose-wiggling bunnies.
There are black-speckled guinea hens, bearing gorgeous feathers that some women like to stick on hats. And ducks. But, of course, there are many cages of chickens -- small red ones, fluffy gray ones and big, white American chickens with red beaks and combs, like Foghorn Leghorn.
There is a distinctive odor in the shop, not unlike Petco if it were filled with cages of animals instead of fish tanks and dog toys.
The shops I've visited are obsessively clean. The floor is cement, with a couple of drains, and the butchers are always hosing down the place, rinsing the floors, counters and other work spaces. They wear long, white coats and knee-high rubber boots.The animals snuggle together in their cages, cozily, like the hamsters I had growing up. When I select a chicken, she's pulled from the cage, no fuss and a minimum of flap. My butcher handles her gently, as if to soothe; there is no advantage to a frightened fowl. Pamela Anderson would be proud.
Then the chicken is hung by her feet on a scale in the center of the room. After I nod that she is adequate, the price of the bird is scribbled on a ticket, which is ripped in half. Half is tied to her foot, and the other half is handed to me. Then I'm pointed toward the cashier.