Hairy crab season is upon us once again, and it's time to dust off our annual list of hairy crab recommendations. New to the world of Shanghai-style crab degustation? Here’s our guide to understanding how Shanghai enjoys this seasonal delicacy, and our top five best of the best specialty crab restaurant recommendations.
The Low Down
Some people say you haven’t really experienced living in Shanghai until you’ve eaten mountains of rich, buttery crab meat and roe that mark hairy crab season. We say they’re right. But to the uninitiated, knowing which crab restaurants are worth your money can be a tricky business – and there are plenty of shady vendors who source crabs of questionable pedigree. Worry not, we’ve done the hard work for you, simply follow this path and enjoy scuttle your way to dozens of different crustacean-laden dish deliciousness.
Know Your Crab
Live crab from UnTour's hairy crab food tour. Image by Betty Richardson/That's
For real Shanghainese crab connoisseurs, the allure of crab season is the prized golden roe, which matures in female crabs in the 9th lunar month (end of September) and the males in the 10th (end of October). Prior to that time, it’s not really worth eating, as the delicious crabby insides won’t have yet matured. Don’t worry though – they stay in season until the end of the year, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to try.
What to Eat
Unadulterated: Whole and Steamed
Image by Betty Richardson/That's
Purists argue that mature hairy crab is best enjoyed simply steamed with fragrant ginger and served whole with a dipping sauce of rice vinegar, sugar and ginger. However, picking apart the little devils with your bare hands is a fiddly and laborious process. We say maximize your crab eating capacity by having the restaurant ‘dress’ your crabs for you (i.e. pick out the all the good bits and open their wee legs and claws).
Dressed and steamed hairy crab with vinegar ginger dressing at Cheng Long Hang. Image by Betty Richardson/That's
If you do decide to go it alone there are some rules that should be followed:
Don’t eat the stomach, a plasticy pyramid-shaped thing, and don’t eat the crescent-shaped lungs.
In traditional Chinese medicine, crabmeat is thought to be a ‘cold’ food – so do eat it with plenty of balancing warming foods like vinegar and ginger, which you’ll find conveniently paired with your crab. Go ahead and drink a flask of warming Shaoxing rice wine (obviously recommended).
Do not – under any circumstances – eat the heart. Roughly the size of a SIM card, the heart is considered to be even colder than the crabmeat. Eating it is extremely bad juju, so pop that little critter to the side and move on.
Xiefen with fried tofu sheets at Old Jesse. Image by Betty Richardson/That's
Xiefen is another highlight of hairy crab season, consisting of a deliciously rich, buttery mixture of crabmeat and roe, usually combined with scrambled egg whites (xiefen dan 蟹粉蛋), shrimps (xiefen xiaren 蟹粉虾仁) or our favourite: fried bean noodles (xiefen fenpi 蟹粉粉皮). In our opinion, xiefen is the best use of your time when it comes to crab eating, and is also the most economic way to maximize time spent eating versus time picking them apart.
Where to Eat Hairy Crab in Shanghai
During the peak of the hairy crab season, reserving at any of these places is a must. While menus are in English and sometimes with pictures, you may need to make reservations in Chinese.
1. Canton Table
This playful Cantonese restaurant inside Three on the Bund, has gotten into the Shanghai autumnal spirit with a full Hairy Crab Feast. Enjoy the firm, meaty crustacean whole or take it easy, with spoonfuls of delicious braised tofu and crab meat (xiefen doufu, RMB198).
Price: Around RMB500/person, whole crab at market prices
Good For: Upscale dining with a Bund view
This smart restaurant, just next to IAPM Mall, is good value for money and offers plenty of choices. Ask for a private room if you're a big group.
Price: Try their sets of 10 courses starting RMB1388/person, or go it alone and order à la carte.
Good for: Big groups, casual dining, business dinners, and guests to impress
A favorite amongst Hong Kong and Taiwanese ‘crab tourists,’ Xinguang is similar to Cheng Long Hang, but with a heartier approach and more traditional interiors/ambience.
Price: Around RMB500/person
Good For: Out of towners, traditionalists
4. Old Jesse
Classic home-style Shanghainese eatery. Small, unfussy interiors and delicious food. Go dor the drunken hairy crab if you're feeling adventurous, or stick with the xiefen with fried bean noodles (xiefen shaofenpi, 蟹粉烧粉皮).
Price: from RMB200
Good For: Casual Dining, out of town guests
5. Fu 1088
Upmarket and fancy, with uncompromisingly high standards when it comes to food, Fu 1088 is a sure bet to impress business guests, in-laws and nay-sayers of Chinese cuisine. Be sure to order their house specialty: xiefen with fluffy and crunchy sticks of brioche with black vinegar.
Price: Minimum spend RMB500/person
Good For: Impress, Big groups, Business Dinners
[Cover image by Betty Richardson/That's]
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