December 8, 2016
Tina Qui is our marketing manager in Shanghai and there’s one particular event she looks forward to every year: The Great Hairy Crab Feast! Intrigued? We asked Tina to explain this local crustacean celebration in her own words…
Don’t be surprised to see people cheering around a basket of cooked crabs if you visit Shanghai at this time of the year – it’s hairy crab season, after all.
The hairy crab, also known as the Chinese mitten crab, is named for its furry claws. It’s a medium-sized burrowing crab, native to the coastal estuaries of eastern Asia. And it’s delicious!
The season for hairy crab only lasts from late September to early December, and the price could be from £5 each to £30 each depending on the size and quality of the individual crab. About 90 minutes west of Shanghai near the city of Suzhou, the freshwater Yangcheng Lake is renowned for producing the very best best hairy crabs, so locals have made it a tradition to travel over to the lake and enjoy the precious delicacy fresh from the water.
Locals insist the best way to cook hairy crabs is to simply steam them for 10 minutes. The Chinese believe the crab meat has a “cooling” effect on the human body, and it’s always paired with Chinese yellow wine and rice vinegar sauce with ginger.
Although the cooking is quite simple, it’s the eating part that makes it fun – some call it ‘a challenge’! First you’ll need to pull off the legs and claws, then put these aside as you’ll work on them later. Next, pry open the top shell and separate the top half from the bottom half, and you can now remove the lungs and heart. Then you add the vinegar ginger sauce to the roe, stir around, and enjoy all of the yummy bits.
Then break the bottom in half to reveal more roe. With the sauce, eat the exposed roe and flesh hidden inside the segments of the body, and accompany with a sip of the yellow wine; a grain-based liquor otherwise known as Huang Jiu.
Finally, break the legs and claws (with your fingers, your teeth, scissors or a combination of the above) and get to the meat inside. In times past, eight different tools were used to eat the crabs, each designed for a specific part. It will be highly respected if you manage to eat a crab without cracking the exoskeleton, then reassemble the crab with its shell. However, nowadays people go easy with the fight and just enjoy breaking the crabs barehanded.
Virgin Atlantic is well known among the Shanghai travel trade for celebrating the season with a traditional annual Hairy Crab Feast. This year, we were delighted to extend the invitation to our Hong Kong travel trade partners too, who’ve also developed a real appreciation for this delicious delicacy. And if you want to find out where and how you can enjoy hairy crabs in Shanghai yourself, take a look at our previous feature on Shanghai hairy crab restaurants.