Bigger is better... except when it comes to hairy crabs

Bigger is better... except when it comes to hairy crabs

It’s hairy crab season and the battle of the sexes is on. Do male or female crabs taste better?
Hairy crabs
Let the battle begin -- male and female hairy crab lovers duke it out.

Locals love their hairy crabs. It’s got something to do with getting your hands smeared with bright orange roe, crunching, sucking and spitting through the claws and shells of one of the city’s favorite crustacean. (Not sure how to eat them? Here's our especially prepared show and tell.)

A common table-talk topic while dining on hairy crabs is arguing enthusiastically over which crabs have the biggest roe, most eggs and sweetest meat. Do the males or females win out?

Most locals believe that female hairy crabs are the better tasting crustacean and a few were only too happy to tell us why.

Size doesn't matter

Females taste sweeter because of their many eggs. It is better for women because it makes you strong.

— Xiao Ping Gong, hairy crab lover

Shanghai-born Anderson Zhang, foodie and manager of new modern Asian restaurant 3.TOP explains that “even if males are bigger, the meat is not as sweet as the females." Female hairy crabs have more layers on their shell which means they produce more energy. More energy means more taste.”

Besides being bigger and hairier, males can be distinguished by having a "V" segment at the bottom of their body; females have a circular segment.

Madame Gao, Grape Restaurant’s lao ban has been running her successful Shanghainese joint for over 20 years. Hairy crab season is one of the busiest periods for her restaurant.

Daringly picking up an untied female crab from the tank, she proudly and convincingly asserts, “The girls are stronger and sweeter than the boys! You see? That’s why we like them more.” We weren’t going to play devil’s advocate while she was holding the feisty claw-snapping female.

“A lot of foreigners don’t like eating hairy crabs,” Madame Gao confides, “because they’re small and eating them gets messy. But we [Shanghainese] love hairy crabs. A few people like [eating] the boys because they think that eating them makes you healthy in winter, but most people only like [eating] the girls.”

The female advantage

Both males and females contain roe, but it is seemingly the roe and eggs from the female that make a significant difference in taste. The intense rich flavor from females develops because of the nutrients they gather in preparation for reproduction.

One of Madame Gao’s many loyal customers, Xiao Ping Gong, is also a fan of female hairy crabs. “Females taste sweeter because of their many eggs. It is better for women because it makes you strong. We can eat a lot of crabs and still stay slim!”

Though we don’t have any scientific proof, anything that women can eat plenty of without needing to count calories definitely deserves some credit.

Getting there

Grape Restaurant
55 Xinle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu 新乐路55号, 近襄阳北路
Hours: 11am-midnight
+86 21 5404 0486

3.TOP Restaurant & Bar
47 Xinle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu 新乐路47号, 近襄阳北路
Hours: Lunch 11am-2:30pm, Dinner 5-10pm
+86 21 5403 8625