The Best Way to Eat Hairy Crab
Ask a Shanghainese person about Hairy Crab and they will insist the best way to eat them is simply steamed – “extra ingredients corrupt the flavor”, according to the Shanghainese person I asked — with a sauce of rice vinegar, sugar, and ginger to dip the crab in. Some restaurants in Shanghai could be accused of being miserly with regard to the amount of crab they actually give you in mixed dishes, so ordering simple steamed crab has the advantage of avoiding this trap.
Steamed crab is the most simple, traditional, and ritualized way of eating hairy crab. There are eight different tools used to deconstruct the Crab, each designed for specific parts. It is a mark of skill, and in fact a show of status, to be able to eat crab without cracking the exoskeleton, so that you can reassemble the crab with its shell. However, for the uninitiated tourist it can turn into a rather protracted and messy affair, crab will go everywhere, so don’t wear your best clothes, they will just get crab on them.
Many restaurants are now offering to do the dirty work for you, and will bring you the meat ready shelled. As one expat blogger remarked “It’s surprising how much better hairy crabs are after you’ve removed the obstacle of actually eating it”.
Pair it with ‘Yellow Wine’
Westerners might choose to pair their hairy crab with Champagne or white wine, but if you are going to try the local food you should make sure you do it right. The Chinese pair hairy crab, no matter the dish, with Shaoxing style Huangjiu. The ‘yellow wine’ has been the traditional accompaniment to hairy crabs for centuries, not just for its ability to coax out the delicate flavors of the dish, but also for its traditional Chinese medicinal properties.