How to eat Shanghai hairy crabs
Shanghai cracks in the hairy crab (大闸蟹) season last week as Yangcheng Lake (阳澄湖) -- the main crab-breeding base near the city -- recently kicked off crabbing.
With an estimated five tons of hairy crabs due to crawl onto Shanghai dining tables from now till winter, it's high time to conquer your fear of whole steamed hairy crab, which is the best way to savor the crustacean.
Tearing apart an entire crab from shell to claw is considered a part of the fun of consuming the dish.
Some Shanghai restaurants will do all the dirty work, but why let them have all the fun?
More on CNNGo: Shanghai's best hairy crab
"Hairy crab is not a complex thing to eat once you get the hang of it," says Frenchman Emmanuel Souliere.
As avid hairy crab fan, Emmanuel was the hotel executive chef at Hilton Shanghai and will soon helm the kitchen at Conrad Beijing.
"It's education. Don't be scared to be a bit messy. It's part of the deal," he adds.
Souliere sat down to teach us how to crack, crunch and suck out the good bits.
1. Known as "hairy crab" (毛蟹) in English, the local name of the gourmet seafood is dazha xie, or big sluice crab (大闸蟹). Although it falls under the same family of hairy crab, only those heavier than 150 grams can be classified as dazha xie.
2. Dazha xie and hairy crabs are considered two different foods by real Shanghai foodies.
3. The best time to consume dazha xie is usually in September-November when they are freshly caught, while normal hairy crabs are eaten year-round in Shanghai.
4. The price difference between dazha xie and normal hairy crabs is staggering. Sometimes, dazha xie can be 30-50 times more expensive than normal hairy crabs. Make sure what you get is the real deal.
5. Although Yangcheng Lake is famous for its dazha xie, it’s not the only breeding ground in China. Dazha xie are bred in many freshwater lakes along the East China coast, for example Hongze Lake (洪泽湖) and Tai Lake in Jiangsu Province.
Originally published May 2010, updated October 2012.