Friday Food 45 – Hairy Crabs
Friday food is a weekly article about one of the more unusual food items to be found in Liuzhou that week. This week, hairy crabs.
The sudden drop in temperature last week confirms that autumn has really arrived. Next week is mid-autumn festival already, but the Chinese calender is well out of synch with reality. Let’s face it; Spring Festival is in the dead of winter!
One sign of autumn is the arrival of these babies in the supermarkets and restaurants. Hairy crabs.
Also known as mitten crabs in English, they are 大闸蟹 or 毛蟹 in the local tongue. Eriocheir sinensis for the scientifically inclined.
Highly prized in Shanghai cuisine, the best crabs are said to be those from Yangcheng Lake (阳澄湖) near Suzhou in Jiangsu province. These fetch huge prices, although it is reckoned that between 90% and 100% are fake. To qualify as ‘genuine’, the crabs only have to be in the lake for a short time. I could raise one in my bathroom, dip it in the lake and legally sell it as the real deal. Almost.
In order to regulate the market, Yangcheng authorities have introduced a tagging system and laser etch serial numbers on each crab. These tags and etchings are also being faked. There is a good article from NPR here.
The specimens sold locally are not the top grade. Those cost a fortune. RT Mart have more modestly priced examples for between around ¥15 to ¥40 per crab, depending on size and gender. The females are considered better as, if you are in luck, they may contain the roe – a delicacy. The females are marked 母. The males are marked 公. The crabs should be steamed for 20 minutes, then served with ginger and vinegar (traditionally Jiangsu province’s Zhenjiang vinegar (镇江香醋), often labelled Chinkiang vinegar in western Chinese supermarkets.) The roe is eaten first, then the meat.
Here is a handy guide from CNN on to how to eat hairy crabs.
And finally a quote from Li Yu, seventeenth century playwright and author of the erotic novel, The Carnal Prayer Mat.
“While my heart lusts after them and my mouth enjoys their delectable taste (and in my whole life there has not been a single day when I have forgotten them), I can’t even begin to describe or make clear why I love them, why I adore their sweet taste, and why I can never forget them… Dear crab, dear crab, you and I, are we to be lifelong companions?”