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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Hairy Crab Experience

The above picture from here.

Every year, at around this time, the newspapers devote much space to the epicurean delights of the Shanghai Hairy Crab. For years, I have been wanting to get around to tasting one but the thought came and then season was over, and I had to banish the thought for another year. This year, however, it so happened that The Husband was not nice to me enough that he proposed to make amends in the form of a Shanghai Hairy Crab lunch. To be polite, we invited Little Boy along who blinked twice at us and said "Crab... hmmm... and a hairy one? No thanks Mom. I'll have the baked rice you made last night."

Fine. Suit yourself.

The intriguing meal began with the reverent delivery by a charming (and very pretty) waitress, of a cutting implement that looked like a cross between a scissors and an ear digger. The Husband and I examined the thing wonderingly. The crabs arrived in a bamboo basket in a rich shade of vermilion red. Someone had obligingly detached the top shell from the bottom and I lifted it off to expose a rich orange roe that tasted like a cross between foie gras and butter. That was the high point because after the 2 teaspoons of crab roe went into my mouth, the rest of the meal was very hard work.

The crabs are the size of my palm (sans fingers) and the flesh was well ensconced between the layers of cartilage (like a mille-feuille in crustacean form) - big fat fingers... slivers of white flesh and layers of crab cartilage. One had to use the ear digger part of the scissors to scratch out the flesh from in between those layers of cartilage. I scratched and I scratched and I scratched until unbidden to the mind came a vision of a hen scratching the earth for whatever it is hens eat. Anyway, since the crab was there and I was too, there was nothing to do but try and eat it. I had to because it was The Husband's expensive way of making amends (each crab cost $58), and it would be most impolite to diss the experience.

It was only when The Husband's eyes met mine in exasperated one-ness over a tiny crab claw that we both giggled and said "It's an experience we don't regret BUT we will never do it again". Then the both of us began to behave like delinquent teenagers poking and scratching and snorting fun at our own valiant efforts to get crab meat outta the shell. The sedate family of four sitting opposite us gave us some curious stares. "How can 2 people have so much fun waving pairs of mutant scissors at each other" they must've thought.

It was a good thing that the restaurant's waitresses were absolute virtuosos at dismantling the crab. Else, I think I would have had to spend another hour eating that thing. I don't get it... because the way the newspapers describe the experience, it's almost like culinary porn. To me, it was just a lotta scratching and some creamy roe.

The experience ended on a minty note. A bowl of water with lemon in it was brought it... and a tube of what looked like toothpaste. We dipped our fingers into the bowl and lathered our hands with some mint toothpaste. This was supposed to get rid of the smell from our fingers. I didn't know that... else I would not have used it. You see, for $116 for a few miserable mouthfuls of flesh and roe, I fully intended to smell my hands all the way home just to get more crab for my money.

11 comments:

Blur Ting said...

Hhaha, you too are so cute lah. A friend treated me once and luckily, the waitress was so nice to help us cut and pull out the pieces of flesh so expertly when she saw us struggling!

petunialee said...

Ting - To be fair to Tung Lok, the waitress we had was perfect. She got out all the meat from the legs for us... but we still had to do some scratching to do. Scratch scratch scratch...

Theanne and Baron said...

PetuniaLee, I enjoy your humor and I can see you and husband digging for that crab meat...and acting like delinquent teenagers! I've never eaten Hairy Crab, how was the taste of the meat, obviously it wasn't worth all the hunting for it

so hope husband is now treating you nice all day long, everyday ;-)

Open Kitchen Concept said...

Oh i feel the same way about hairy crabs - too small.. too difficult to eat.. but to be fair, it packs intensive taste in what little amounts you get. For me though, bring on a Sri Lanka crab in the form of pepper crab or chilli crab anytime..

Leah said...

The roe...*drooling*...

You and Ting just made me so hungry with your food pictures...*drool*...

petunialee said...

Theanne - The meat is delicate and sweet. The roe is what packs the punch. It tastes good... there is no doubt about that. It's just that I dunno how much the goodness is associated with having to really work and wait for each mouthful, and how much is really good because it is good.

petunialee said...

OKC - Yup! I agree... the delicate taste of the meat and the rich roe is well and good but give me the robust flavours of the Black Pepper or Chilli Crab anytime... fat chunks of sweet meat dipped in an oomph sauce.

Uh oh... now I have a craving.

petunialee said...

Leah - It's over rated. Not recommended... waste of good money. Something to do once, and never again.

Malar said...

I can imagine how both of you tried to eat the hairy crab! hahahhaa....
I think i prefer my masala crab! ;)

petunialee said...

Malar - I've never had masala crab... hmmmm... must go and try.

Chee Hoew said...

All desire to try hairy crab was lost at 'eardigger'.