Summer is here! Time to take out the short sleeves and bermudas. Longer evening always mean beer nights. And what’s better than ice cold beer in a hot summer evening other than hot spicy crayfish.
Louisiana Crawfish or 小龙虾？
Clarke’s crawfish (Procambarus clarkii) is a native crustacean found in the waterways of Louisiana, and the main ingredients of Louisiana Boil. In 1920s, Japanese brought them into China as food for bullfrogs. As they had no natural predators, they became top of the food chain in many waterways and lakes in China. And because of their superb survival instincts (they can survive in poor water quality), they were thought to be sewer cleaners. Then the Chinese found the best way to destroy this invasive species – eat them. However after the food poisoning incident in Nanjing back in 2010, the demand for them totally tanked. After efforts to assure food safety, crawfish these days are almost all farmed in Xu Yi County in Jiangsu. There are now also three wholesale markets, producing about 60,000 tons of Xuyi crayfish annually, making the Chinese the biggest consumer of crawfish/crayfish.
Move over Louisiana, Shanghai’s now the capital of Crayfish!
Wander any night market in China right now and you’re going to see piles of crayfish. Because they are farm raised, they are available year-round but peak season for what might be China’s unofficial national dish is… right now. Shanghai loves its crayfish and although the Shouning Road crayfish street mecca is no more, there are still hundreds of places to eat the little mudbugs in the city. (No, they are not raised in the sewer, as popular rumours on the Chinese internet have claimed.)
香辣螺丝 Spicy Spiral Shells
They are food for Chinese mitten crabs, more commonly known as hairy crabs. But spiral shell is now a favourite beer snack. The sharp end of the shell is chopped off to allow us to suck the tiny morsel of meat from inside the shell. Around 500g of shells per serve, but it was most interesting to see how educated adults descended into despair trying to suck the meat out. These are usually cooked in advance in a large pot, so they usually are served first and go very well with ice cold beer because of the heat from the chilli pepper broth used to stewed them.
秘制鸭头 Marinated Duck Head
秘制大凤爪 Marinated Chicken Feet
烤羊肉串 Grilled Lamb Kebabs
烤掌中宝 Grilled Cartilage Bone
掌中宝 “Treasure in the hand” is the cartilage bone from chicken thigh and drumstick, and they are absolutely delicious when grilled with the spices. The crunch made them my favourite bar snack, much better than peanuts.
烤鸡中翅 Grilled Mid-Joints
Hurray to Maillard reaction – the satisfying taste due to the transformation of amino acids and sugar when they meet heat – and what else is most satisfying than grilled chicken wings. Especially the mid-joints, the large amount of skins made more surface area for browning. Always a gathering favourite.
蒜茸烤生蚝 Grilled Oysters with Garlic
蒜茸烤带子 Grilled Scallops with Garlic
经典冰镇小龙虾 Crayfish on Ice
“Steamed crayfish” is as advertised: steamed crawdads arrayed in a bamboo container. The only interference is that rice vinegar dip sauce that accompanies practically every steamed crustacean in Shanghai. Just pop off the head and slurp out the tomalley, slip off the trousers and remove the crop, then eat the tail.
冰镇酒醉小龙虾 Drunken Crayfish on Ice
Crayfish that owes money to Jabba The Hutt? No, 小龙虾 that’s been cooked, splashed with liquor, cooled, and arrayed on a bed of dried ice, which cascades down the sides of the bowl as you eat it. It’s the perfect antidote to weather that got you sweating like a mob informant.
经典麻辣小龙虾 Crayfish in Sichuan peppercorn sauce
The must-order for every crayfish night-out. This is the flavour that kicked off the whole crayfish craze across the name. In started with Beijing, along this street called 簋街 Gui Street, a 5-km stretch that houses many 24-hour eating places, mostly serving this version which the Beijingers call 麻小. Then the craze came over to Shanghai and its popularity just blew out of proportion as Shanghai is close the source of the main ingredients, so they sold them by weight rather than by piece. Now, everytime my Beijing staff come over to Shanghai, we would have crayfish night.
经典十三香小龙虾 Crayfish with 13 Spices
Shanghai’s answer to the Louisiana crawfish boil, except instead of bay spice, they crop dust the critters with 13 “fragrances”. What is 十三香 thirteen fragrances? It is a spice mix that consisted of thirteen spices that included cardamon, peppercorn, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger, etc. It is almost always found as a dry powder and used as a dry rub for meat and poultry.
经典蒜香小龙虾 Crayfish with Garlic
Hard to beat crayfish that’s festooned with enough garlic to keep the vampires away. The crayfish is cooked in a lot of oil, a lot of garlic, a lot of herbs, a lot of flavours. If you are not going on a date afterwards, or your partner does not mind an onslaught of garlic breathe, you will not regret ordering this.
Hong Kui Jia Crayfish is the new kid on the block of supper crayfish crazy Shanghai. Hong Kui Jia means “Red Armour” in Chinese – not a bad name for a crayfish chain. It has multiple locations around downtown, but expect a long wait at some of their popular locations, like this one in Dingxi Road. Lots of drinking and buzz, a very typical Chinese late-night dining vibe. They have all the crayfish classics, from traditional 13-spices, to Ma La (hot and spicy), but their specialties are 冰镇 or served cold over a bed of ice, and salted egg yolk.
Hong Kui JiaCrayfish 红盔甲
825 Dingxi Lu, near Yan’An Xi Lu, Changning District
Date Visited : Jun 2021