As they said in Shanghai, “內行人吃螃蟹，外行人看熱鬧”. Hairy crabs are an acquired taste. You work so hard at getting a little crab meat. But when at the rest season, the roe and eggs you get from these crab are out of this world.
History of Wang Bao He 酒祖宗•蟹大王
Wang Bao He was founded in 1744 during 9th year reign of Emperor Qian Long. It started as a winery, making the famous Shaoxing Yellow Wine. Throughout history, it became founding winery in Shanghai and won the honorary title of “Ancestor of [Yellow] Wine 酒祖宗”.
In 1936 it moved to its current location in Fuzhou Road. To compliment its wine, Wang Bao He started serving food such as steamed river crabs. And every autumn, they offered hairy crabs from Yang Cheng Lake. They would hang a basket with these live crabs and lit a bright yellow light bulb on top of the basket. People would flock to the restaurant, attracted by the light and fragrance of the freshly steamed crabs. And soon after, they became known as “King of Crabs” 蟹大王
Salad 麻醬沙拉 – Simple salad with a sesame vinaigrette dressing.
Wine Infused Cold dishes 酒糟（帶魚、毛豆、蝦）– 酒糟 or 糟滷 is a cooking technique that soaked cooked ingredients like edamame, shrimps, fried fish, chicken fish in wine to infuse the flavour of the wine into the food. The resulting cold dish retained the original texture and taste of the ingredient while giving the taste of the wine used for the infusion.
We were served three types of Wine Infused Cold Dishes. Fried Ribbon Fish, Edamame and Shrimps.
Smoked Pomfret Fillet 前菜熏魚 – Don’t be fooled by the word smoked. It is not smoked like the Western way. Shanghai Smoked Fish is pan fried fish until crisp and then soaked in soy sauce and then fried until the sauce caramelises.
The fish was really sweet and savoury, and it is found at every Shanghainese home during Chinese New Year.
Poached chicken 特色白切雞 – Another simple dish, but yet really complicated to do right. A right sized chicken is poached and then chilled in a bucket of ice to turn the fats in the poached chicken to jelly. The skin tightened as a result and the chicken juices are retained in the chicken. Served cold, the chicken intensifies in flavour and can be chewy if not done properly.
And the difference between the Hainanese version and Shanghainese version? The choice of chicken. In Shanghai, they prefer 三黃雞, a type of free range chicken that that has three distinct characteristics – yellow feet, yellow feather, yellow beak.
Wine soaked crab 醃醉蟹 – This is different from Wine Infusion described above. Here, the live crab is soaked in a mixture of yellow wine and soy sauce. The wine kills and sterilised the crabs, and the soy sauce gave the distinct dark coloration as a result. Of course both ingredients contributed to the intense flavours in the crab.
You can see from the crab shell, the roe retained the bright orange while the paste has turned dark by the soy sauce. The saltiness of soy drained the fluid from the crab, pretty much “cooking” the crab in the process.
A good wine soaked crab is very hard to describe. You need to try it to understand the complexity of the flavour profile.
Beef with Matsu mushroom 松茸牛肉骰 – A rather common dish using very expensive ingredients. Nothing to shout about.
蟹膏溜銀皮 Fried Bean Curd Jelly with Crab Paste – I think this is the piece de resistance of the restaurant. It needed a lot of crab paste to fry a plate of this chewy noodle. And if the chef is not experienced, the noodles will become soggy with oil and stick together. Here, it was executed to perfection, every piece of noodle was separate and coated with the crab paster.
Prawn with crab roe 蟹粉明蝦卷 – By the 6th dish with crab, the flavours were repeating itself.
Seafood soup 蟹粉八珍羹 – And when the soup also featured the same flavour profile, I could not have another bite.
Crab meat balls 蟹粉狮子头 – “Lion’s Mane” Meat Balls are giant meat balls that originated from Shanghainese cuisine. It is made up of minced pork meat that is made up of 50% lean and 50% fatty cuts, and tofu. Here, they added crab meat that gave the overall results a crabby sweetness to the meat ball. The balls were cooked in chicken stock, and it glistened with the crab oil.
Eating Hairy Crab
Hairy Crab (Male) 大閘蟹（公) – Here in Wang Bao He, the crab are poached in water rather than steamed. During steaming, the craws may break off the crab and the roe and white may overflow. So the chef insisted that they poached it.
The crab was towards the tail of the season,. It was still full of roe, but the meat has shrunk a bit as the crab has left the lake for quite sometime.
Reassembling the crab after consuming it required a lot of practice. I am becoming quite good at it. Here’s a video on how to do it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOcC1-9RAEk
Crab sesame buns 蟹殼黃 – This is a savoury dessert. A filo puff filled with crab roe, crusted with sesame and baked in the oven. The exterior was flaky and crisp, it disintegrated at the first bite. But the sesame gave it a really nice aroma, and the filling of crab roe melted and released all the crab oil inside the puff which gave it a really nice savoury taste.
Wang Bao He is not cheap. This dinner for 10 would have easily cost us RMB 8,000 without the yellow wine. However, service was one of the best in Shanghai that I have experienced so far. We had a private suite for dinner, so we dined in comfort and relative peace, away from the hustle and bustle of the main hall.
Reservation essential during hairy crab season between September and January. Ask if crab is available. Any other time, you can only get prepacked processed crab meat.
There are two more branches in Shanghai, one is a restaurant that caters to the masses, and another in their other hotel. This one is flagship store with the best decor and of course, most expensive among the three.
Wang Bao He Central Hotel
555 Jiujiang Road, Shanghai
Tel : +86 21 5396 5000
Date Visited : Dec 2017