Shanghai hairy crab
- Leucadian Oct 11, 2006 11:21 AM
These little green fellows are all over Hong Kong right now. Nicely bound with a kind of raffia, first around the perimeter to gather the claws into the body, then around the top front to back to hold the first loop in place. Then precisely stacked in glass display cases on the street outside the restaurants, like so many cigars in humidors.
I had my first taste tonight at West Villa in Causeway Bay. It was late in the afternoon, I had missed lunch, and my friends were organizing a dinner at an Italian restaurant. I'm leaving tomorrow, so the opportunity to sample these delicacies was fading. West Villa is a pleasant restaurant in the Lee Garden Two complex, rubbing shoulders with Gucci and MB dealerships in an expensive hotel district. Don't expect any bargains. A real advantage of the odd hour was that the place was empty, and we were seated by Laurence, who introduced himself as helping out his parents in their restaurant. He was raised in Vancouver. The odd hour meant that he could spend time explaining the menu and the restaurant to us.
The SHC is a seasonal delicacy, and he had a prix fixe SHC feast of 8 items for HK$788, or about US$100. We chose the a la carte menu to be able to sample some dim sum, based on Laurence's recommendations.
Barbecued pork in baked buns: they had a dusting of sugar and flour, to give a little crunchy texture and more sweetness.
Dumplings filled with SHC and soup, served with vinegar. We were told that the richness was due to the SHC eggs, not any extra oil.
The crab. Our server cut it open for us, cleaning it and presenting it to us with sauce. I didn't understand at first, but the real delicacy of a SHC is the roe/eggs. They are rich and creamy, tasting a lot like a chicken yolk. Hope that's not blasphemy to real connoiseurs of this crab. The meat was very flavorful (my companion claimed they reminded her of red rock crabs in the US Northwest), but there wasn't much of it. I grew up on Maryland crabs where you might have to work at it, but you could definitely fill up on crab. Not so here. It's the flavor.
Steams pork won ton with Szechuan sauce. Six of these beauties, with sauce that was sweet and hot.
Mango and citrus soup. Chunks of mango and strands of a citrus (grapefruit or pommelo?) in a light mango soup with tapioca. Sweet but not cloying. Perfect end to the meal.
On the way out we were treated to a tour of the fish tank with local lobster, plus abalone, conch, eel, huge prawns, and what else. The prawns are stir fried in a little soy sauce, not much else. Next time maybe.
I just hope I'm up for Italian.
Glad you got to try them at their peak. I may be back in Shanghai mid-November, but by then they will be past their prime. I think November 15 is the cut-off date for some hotel dining rom crab feasts.
Wu Kong Restaurant, a well-known (and reasonably priced) Shanghainese restaurant in Hong Kong, has a crab feast for HK $388 pp. The menu is only in Chinese, but from my limited language capabilities it looks like 6 or 7 crab or crab roe dishes.
Crab feast menu (Chinese):
Some info in English here:
I happened to be in Hong Kong in September, 1997, when the stock market collapsed. Hairy crab was just coming on to the market at that time, and very expensive. However, in a matter of days the prices plummeted to unheard-of low levels. It turned out that the Chinese name for the crab, "dazha" sounds like the words for "falls down" in Chinese, and the superstitious locals were afraid to buy them.
re: Gary Soup
Thanks for the tip on Wu Kong. I'll try it next trip.
As to the peak of the season, I don't know if I hit it or not. The crabs were rather small, and Laurence apologized for that, saying that the big ones had not come in yet. He reduced his prices per crab from HK$235 on the printed flier, to HK$188 due to the small size.
I think that due to my westerner status, I needed help in opening the crab, so I never got the treat of seeing the crab intact on the plate. I appreciated the help in opening and preparing the crab to eat, but I missed the visual effect. Nevertheless, the taste of the roe in the whole crab is unforgettable.
Actually, checking the calendar, I think Laurence might be right. The females are supposed to hit their peak in the 9th lunar month, and we haven't hit that yet (the females are bigger and tastier than the males, who peak a month later). The Nov. 15 cutoff I saw may be when they estimate that the female crabs have passed their peak. The crab feasts generally have several dishes featuring the roe.
I don't think opening the crabs is really all that difficult, but it's still a lot of work to get such a little meat out and I'm happy to have someone else do it. At the crab feast "sets" in Shanghai, there's always at least one course in which the crabs are presented to you whole, but a server will be standing by to open them with amazing dexterity.