Hairy Crab in Shanghai


We're approaching the tail end of the Shanghai Hairy Crab (also known as Chinese Mitten Crab) season. I had some time to kill at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on my way back from Seoul so I indulged in Hairy Crab, an autumn delicacy in eastern China, while waiting for my connecting flight. The waitress asked if I'd like to see the Hairy Crab before they cooked it. I've never been offered a view of a live Hairy Crab at my table before in Singapore so I figured, "Sure, why not?".

Live Shanghai Hairy Crab giving me the evil eye.
A crabby-looking Shanghai Hairy Crab giving me the evil eye.
Sorry, little fella, I' you later. 

When the live Hairy Crab arrived on the tray at my table, I wondered what I was supposed to do with a live crab that looked absolutely grouchy with all its claws bound tightly moments before it was due to be whisked away to a hot, um, "life-ending sauna". Awkward! I snapped a couple of shots of the crabby-looking Hairy Crab much to the amusement of the service staff. I later learnt that I was supposed to inspect the crab and break a claw so I'd know if they steamed the same crab for my meal. Seriously, I'd feel bad breaking its leg while it was alive although the guilt I felt about sending it to a steamy death was also quite strong.

Dumpling Noodles
Shrimp Dumpling Noodles in Soup

While waiting for the Hairy Crab to be steamed, I dug into a steaming hot bowl of Dumpling Noodles. A comforting dish especially since I'd been having a bad headache all morning before departing Seoul and throughout my flight to Shanghai. The fresh shrimp and pork filling within the dumplings were tasty and crunchy while the noodles were firm to the bite. Worth a try if you're starving and have a few hours to spare before boarding your connecting flight.

Steamed Shanghai Hairy Crab
Steamed Hairy Crab served with Ginger Tea
@ CNY188 for 210 g(about USD30.65) / CNY98 for 160g (about USD15.98)

Before long, the steamed Hairy Crab was served with a glass of warm ginger tea and a gingery but slightly sweet black vinegar dip. In recent years, I've grown to dislike the strong flavour that the black vinegar dip imparts to the sweet Hairy Crab flesh. If you're consuming your crab with some white or yellow rice wine, I would suggest using some wine as a dip instead of the vinegar. I find that fragrant wine helps to lift the flavours of the crab without overpowering its natural sweetness with an astringent taste. Hairy Crabs are traditionally served with Ginger Tea or Wine to balance the "cooling yin" nature of the crab.

Shanghai Hairy Crab - Steamed & Shell Off
Steamed Shanghai Hairy Crab - Shell off, revealing rich, golden roe

The main draw of Hairy Crabs is the creamy and umami-rich roe. I was told that September (the start of Hairy Crab season) is the best time to consume female Hairy Crabs while the roe of male Hairy Crabs peak in mid-October. Eating the small but fleshy and roe-filled Hairy Crab is a time-consuming exercise that requires patience. I think it's a venture well worth your while in spite of how little food each crab seems to provide. If you haven't tried Hairy Crabs yet, do get some before the season ends at the end of November. Most good Chinese restaurants in Singapore are offering Hairy Crab dishes till 30 November.

Sign for Hairy Crabs at Shanghai Pudong Airport

I've lost the receipt for the restaurant that I stumbled upon close to the Domestic Departure Hall on the 3rd Floor of Shanghai Pudong Airport. There aren't many dining choices in Shanghai Pudong International Airport (it seems like the main restaurants are run by one company), so if you're looking for a noodle fix, you should be able to find it close to the Domestic Departure Hall.