Hairy crabs have been a popular delicacy in sourthern China for centuries. Harvesting season in now underway until November, and Shanghai’s residents could not be happier.
Crabs from Yangcheng Lake outside of Shanghai are the most highly prized, and once graced the Emperor’s dinner table. During hairy crab season, the crustaceans are found everywhere in Shanghai – peddled on street corners and in bustling markets. There’s no such phenomenon in the capital Beijing. Hairy crabs are also highly sought after in Hong Kong and are exported to Taiwan and Singapore.
Ping Xie – the crab farm and restaurant on Yangcheng Lake – delivers live crabs to all corners of China. There are signs at airports in Shanghai that forbid the transportation of live crabs as hand luggage.
A feast of hairy crab from Yangcheng Lake sets one back about $25 at a restaurant in Shanghai. The industry was commercialised in the 1980s, and hairy crab prices rise by about 20 per cent each year since then. The crabs are hugely popular “business gifts” – greasing the wheels of Chinese commerce.
Like other luxury goods in China, “fake” hairy crabs raised in less hygienic locations are sold with counterfeit trademarks to unsuspecting buyers.
Part of their popularity is that crab meat is considered a body coolant in traditional Chinese medicine. Hairy crabs are therefore served with “warming” condiments such as vinegar, ginger, and yellow rice wine to provide the perfect balance.
In Mandarin, the word hairy crab sounds like “harmony”.