Hairy Crabs

Also known as Mitten crabs are considered a local delicacy especially in Shanghai and surrounding areas. I never heard about them in the US, but my research indicates that they have been introduced into the US and into Europe and are considered a potential threat to the native species in those areas. Hairy crabs (they get their name for the hair like fibers on their legs) are quite ugly and agressive  crustaceans. Hairy crabs can be trace back to an old story from the year 2283 BC, during the period of Monarch Yao who appointed Da Yu to tame the river.

From Wikipedia… “Hairy crab is a famous delicacy in Shanghai Cuisine and is prized for the female crab roe. The crab meat is believed by the Chinese to have a “cooling” effect on the body. Concerns have been raised that the population and origin of the crab may be affected because of overfishing of the species in the Yangtze River.

Chinese spend hundreds of yuan just to taste a small crab from Yangcheng Lake which are considered a delicacy. The crabs cost 680–700 yuan, or roughly US$105, per kilogram. Most of the Yangcheng crabs are exported to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and high-profit foreign markets. Responding to the spread of the crab to the West, businessmen have started seeing it as a new source of crab for the Chinese market. One proposed scheme involves importing unwanted crabs from Europe, where they are seen as a pest, to replenish local pure-bred stock.

Mitten crabs have exhibited a remarkable ability to survive in highly modified aquatic habitats, including polluted waters. Like some fish, they can also easily tolerate and uptake heavy metals, such as cadmium and mercury. Therefore, the farming and post-harvesting of the species needs proper management if it is used as a food.

Recently, China introduced vending machines to sell this species of crab in the subways. The crabs are stored at 5 °C (41 °F), which induces a sleepy state of hibernation. The prices of the crabs range from around $1.50 to $7.00 (USD). They are guaranteed to be fresh and alive.

In the almost two years in Suzhou, my wife and I never tried hairy crabs. Well, my wife would not try any crab regardless of where they come from; period. A few weeks back our driver John invited us to his parents home for dinner. We were surprised to get the invite, but quite grateful so we accepted right away. We have no idea what to expect as we went into a very traditional home where we expected very traditional local Suzhou food. We were not disappointed at all. John’s mother and grandmother turned out to be an excellent cooks and had a real feast for us. Part of the meal included a healthy amount of hairy crabs steamed to perfection. Below are some pictures we took as we accompanied John and his wife Linda to purchasing this local delicacy.

John’s parents home is located in the shores of Lake Tai or Taihu Lake. With an area of 2,250 km² and an average depth of 2 meters, it is the third largest freshwater lake in China, after Lake Poyang and Lake Dongting. The lake houses about 90 islands, ranging in size from a few square meters to several square miles.  This is a view of a very small portion of the lake and a corner of the farm we went to buy the crabs for dinner. Around this lake, in addition to the hairy crab farm we visited, there are many beautiful homes, hotels and vacation spots. Sunday rides around the lake it also seems to be a popular activity for many locals.

 

As we entered a small building where they sold the crabs these two gentlemen were busy selling some crabs to another customer. They paused for a picture without any reservations; they were very quiet, but seemed friendly.

As you can see this store doubles as a home or at least a place you can sleep. These gentlemen are sorting the crabs placing them in buckets according to their size.

Not sure what size these where, but they looked about palm size to me.

A close up shows the hairs on their legs. Not quite as nice looking as a blue crab, but a crab never the less.

This gentleman is tying the legs of each crab before they are sold to assure a orderly cooking process. I also imagine to make sure that on the way home the crabs do not organize a breakout.

 

The brief video below shows the process to tie the crabs legs and a brief look around the store.

After you have selected your crabs you leave the small house next to the lake and walk to the front to pay in cash. Quite efficient process.

I did have one crab and liked it okay. Not a big fan I must say, but we were very thankful for the invite as we enjoyed the company and great food (about 80% of it came form the Taihu lake area and John’s home garden). The hand made dumplings were fantastic as four other dishes that were very new to us. Thank you John and family!

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