6 Places to Go Cray Cray for Xiaolongxia in Shanghai This Summer

By Cristina Ng, August 1, 2018

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Whether you call them crayfish, crawfish, crawdads or mudbugs, there’s no disputing that these ‘little lobsters’ signal Shanghai summer. Although this delicacy is available all year long, the best time to crush a plate is from June to September when these freshwater crustaceans are at their plumpest. Traditional preparation typically involves cooking them in a chili-based sauce, but there are plenty of options beyond the basic. Not sure where to begin?  We scoured the city for six choices for everyone from the traditionalist to the hedonist to get your xiaolongxia adventures started.

1. The Seasoned Traveler: Spicy Paradise

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

The word on the street is that Shouning Lu, the last bastion of Shanghai’s late night street food, has fallen. While that is mostly true, we found a few shops hanging on. The fuwuyuan at Spicy Paradise (香吧岛) assured us that the remaining places are licensed and allowed to continue operation. Their less fortunate neighbors might eventually reopen but will not be allowed to sell seafood.

Out of the last few hangers-on, number 53 was the most inviting and had the most customers – it’s never a good idea to frequent an empty seafood restaurant. If you have trouble choosing from all the options on their Chinese picture menu, we vouch for the fragrant ‘13-flavor’ (十三香龙虾, shisan xiaolongxia). While couldn’t quite figure out their secret recipe of 13 herbs and spices, we detected hints of cumin, garlic, and chili followed by the sweet aftertaste of aniseed and cinnamon. As is standard, their crayfish are sold in units of jin (500 grams), starting from RMB59. 

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 8/10
Price: RMB138 for 2 jin of ’13-flavor’ (small crayfish)
Accoutrements: plastic gloves, dry napkins

See listing for Spicy Paradise

2. The Nordic Obsessed: The Nest

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Nearly 5,000 miles across the globe, crayfish parties called kräftskiva are a Swedish summertime tradition. These raucous outdoor events made their way to neighboring Finland via its Swedish-speaking population where they also celebrate the tiny ‘lobster’ with lots of alcohol and drinking songs.

At The Nest, Chef Freddy’s version, available until the end of September) reinterprets the typical Nordic style by poaching them for a couple minutes in a brine flavored with black pepper and crown dill that were harvested after flowering for an intense, anise-like flavor. These buggers are cooked alive then kept a few days to absorb the brine before serving. Ready to progress to pro-crayfish consumption? Suck the brine out of the head to get the full effect.

After picking out the juicy flesh, try putting some on top of dill buttered dark bread while sipping one of their homemade aquavits (RMB298/250ml, RMB598/500ml). The honey, horseradish and dill-infused number is a real winner.

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 10/10
Price: RMB298/500g, RMB488/1kg
Accoutrements: plastic gloves, wet/dry napkins, cool lobster bib and scissors

See listing for The Nest

3. The Hedonist: Hai Xia

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

There is no need to mess around with small orders at this longxia-focused joint on Dagu Lu. Everyone’s here for the gigantic wheel of multi-flavored crayfish. Hai Xia's (嗨虾) big platter, or dapinpan (大拼盘), comes in two sices with six (RMB1,338) or eight (RMB1,888) varieties. The smaller order will feed five ravenous eaters; you’ll need eight to 10 friends if you wish to tackle this big mama.

We relished the wheel with abandon, leaving behind only a few of the cold, unseasoned variety.  Their ‘13-flavor’ is more addictive than Spicy Paradise’s due to some extra numbing peppercorn and chili. We appreciated the addition of broccoli crayfish sautéed with garlic and the liberal sprinkling of cumin in the beer-sauced version. Note: the menu is only in Chinese. 

Taste: 9.5/10
Appearance: 10/10
Price: from RMB168 for 2 jin
Accoutrements: plastic gloves, dry napkins, sink for washing up

See listing for Hai Xia

4. The Relaxed Eater: FOMO

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

While popular longxia chain FOMO (嗨虾小龙虾) might not blow your socks off, they are the most convenient choice with seven locations around town. If standing in line for a spot is too much for you, fire up the Ele.me app on your phone and have some spicy crayfish delivered right to your couch.

FOMO serves a pretty big menu, though the garlic flavor crayfish (RMB98/750g) is our standard order. If you need carbs to fill up, they serve a crayfish and rice cakes (RMB98) dish drenched in a slightly sweet and sticky tomato sauce. If you are really lazy, you will love that these come headless. Orders start at RMB98 for a little under one jin.

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 4/10
Price: Average of RMB100 for 450g orders
Accoutrements: plastic gloves, bib, fee for wet and dry napkins, sink for washing up

See listings for FOMO

5. The Health Nut: Green & Safe The Barn

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

We can always count on Green & Safe to give the guiltiest of pleasures a healthy makeover. In this case, they’ve assuaged our contaminated crayfish fears by sourcing an organically farmed xiaolongxia from a trusted local supplier.

The big, juicy crayfish are stir-fried with corn on the cob, cucumber, potatoes, scallions, chili, peppercorn and ginger for a smack of all-natural flavors. The addition of vegetables and fried dough sticks is a really nice touch, especially the spice-absorbing cucumbers.

This dish started as an evening summer special, but proved so popular that they have made it available all day at their Xintiandi location through August 25.

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 10/10
Price: RMB98
Accoutrements: plastic gloves, wet naps, napkins

See listing for Green & Safe The Barn

6. The Sandwich Bandit: Beef & Liberty

Image via Beef & Liberty

Do you wish all of your food came between two pieces of bread? Well then Beef & Liberty has something special for you. This season’s limited edition sandwich is like a lobster roll, but made with crayfish.

A half-kilo of xiaolongxia is dressed lightly in mayonnaise and lemon and finished off with bacon bits, celery, arugula and an order of their excellent thick-cut fries. Available at all three locations until August 5.

Taste: 7.5/10
Appearance: 8/10
Price: RMB129 (1 jin of crayfish, shelled)
Accoutrements: use your hands, it’s a sandwich

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

See listings for Beef & Liberty

Hungry for more? Take a look at our other Shanghai Dining Guides

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