Hairy Crabs - Crab City, China (fur real!)
Yangcheng Lake, China aka Crab City.
There is an exotic, far off place I once visited where ornate seafood palaces sit on poles above crystal clear lakes that are pregnant with furry crustaceans. And every autumn the fishermen with their ancient traps drag out of the water a plethora of these fascinating creatures and hand them off to the chefs in the kitchens of this gastronomic kingdom who then steam the crabs with ginger and herbs by huge batches. Afterwards piles of these hairy crabs are placed on platters and served to eager and hungry connoisseurs who have waited eight months for this glorious day. I saw it all with my own eyes, and yet it seems like a wispy dream. But it really did happen. Every year beginning in September, Yangcheng Lake near Shanghai, China is hairy crab central where throngs will make the journey to feast on this odd delicacy.
Unlike in the US with the Dungeness crab, the Chinese hairy crab's primary appeal is not the meat in its claws and legs, although they're to be savored as well. Every hairy crab lover knows the real treasure is buried beneath its body armor. The soup, the roe, the "mustard", the guts (just not the lungs) are to be sipped, sucked and licked to your mouth's content.
The hairy crab isn't all that meaty, at least not when compared to the Dungeness crab. In fact, a couple of the Hong Kong friends who feasted with us brought their own utensils especially designed for crushing hairy crab and picking at its elusive and sparse flesh. That's a bit gadgety for me. My jaw and a sharp tip from the crab's own leg do the job of mining for meat just as well. In order to fully appreciate the crab, it's recommended that you devour two to four.
I was eating with a party of eight voracious hairy crab fanatics including my brother Warren and his wife Anita, both Shanghai denizens. At the end the only evidence of this orgiastic feast was the precarious mountain of discarded shells. The occasional melodic belch was further proof of how decadent the meal was. After all is said and done there's no better accolade for great grub than "buuuuurrp!!!"