Tesco-shopping for crabs

In China, the celebrations of the founding PRC have started and we decided to celebrate too. Because it was crab season, we wanted to celebrate with a crab dinner, which is typical in Shanghai. Shanghai people love eating according to the seasons. And autumn is a crab season, more precisely from September to December. Eating a crab is no fun. It’s a long process and it took me a long time to learn how to do it.

Now I know how to eat a crab. But to buy one, not really. However, I have learnt some tricks. To distinguish between a male and female crab is relatively easy and mainly very important. Their price, in fact, differs. But the difference varies according to the seasons when they are being bought. Male crabs are more expensive in the beginning of autumn, the female crabs in the end of autumn. And then of course the bigger the crab, the more expensive it is. Today we had a crab offer from 20RMB a piece to 80RMB for a really big piece. We went the humble way and bought a crab for 38RMB. Dozens of crabs are not bought normally. Five crabs is enough for a good lunch for two. Of course you will need a little bit of vegetables and rice to go with it.

When we are talking about Shanghai crabs, we are talking about a particular species – the so called Shanghai hairy crab, also known as hairy crabs because they have beautifully overgrown claws. The best ones come from Yangcheng Lake. This lake is actually very small, but if all the crabs which are sold as ‘Yangcheng Lake Crabs’ were really from there, there wouldn’t be any left. It’s possible that not many crabs are there, because when we were there, nobody would take us to the part of the lake where the crabs are supposed to be. The locals only show places where the crabs are ‘sold from the Yangcheng Lake’. What does this mean? Traders will take crabs from different lakes and they throw them into Yangcheng Lake to ‘bathe’. Then they are being sold as crabs from Yangcheng Lake, which makes them more expensive. That’s why we bought our crabs from Lake Taihu. This lake is (probably) bigger (actually I’m not sure about this), but mostly it is not as popular as Yangcheng Lake. So the crabs from this lake are mostly not just ‘bathed’ but they are locals. In the eyes of Shanghai people who regularly eat crabs, they taste better.

How do you buy such a crab? But why just talk about it? I made a video about it directly. You will see how my wife buys five crabs from Chinese Tesco. She touches every one of them. If a crab has a hard belly, it means he has enough meat. That’s what she’s talking about with the shop assistant; that’s why I didn’t put up the subtitles. All the slim ones she released back to the aquarium. Another way to recognize a good crab is if he resists a lot it means he’s healthy and thus also good. The last way is to grab a crab by one leg and let it hang. If the leg breaks, it’s called ‘the crab with soft legs’, which we shouldn’t buy. It’s interesting that ‘crab with soft legs’ has another meaning. An unreliable person, a person that escapes from every problem and avoids responsibility is in Chinese ‘the crab with soft legs’ ”(软脚蟹). Mind you, in Beijing they wouldn’t understand you; it’s a very local saying. Certainly the Shanghai people are experts on crabs.

The man who gave us the crabs from the aquarium has my admiration. He was putting his hand among dozens of crabs as if they were only cucumbers. I wouldn’t put my hand in there. He always grabbed them skillfully, took them out, showed them to us, and after our approval he wrapped them into a ‘bowl’ and tightened them with a string so they wouldn’t escape from the taxi. You’ll see with you own eyes what the shopping in Chinese Tesco looks like. A little bit different than in our Tesco.

Cooked crabs
Cooked crabs