Jiangnan people eat according to the 24 seasonal changes, and the short crab season after “the arrival of summer“ 立夏 is the most anticipated thing for the gluttons. “Nothing is fresher than June Yellow”, these male “boy crabs” who have just gone through the third moulting are plump and soft, and seemingly overflowing with fats. I have been looking forward to the annual “June Yellow” that just came on the market, and nowhere better than the reverent Xinguang Restaurant.
Xinguang Restaurant’s Crab Feast
Xinguang Restaurant 新光酒家 is located in a street that is parallel to the Nanjing Pedestrian Street. From the exterior, one would not expect this to be one of the best place to have the seasonal delicacy. Even the tableware used has seen better days, and yet the price is not exactly friendly. In a megalopolis like Shanghai, where wealth and refinement come together, classic restaurants like these often require a refresh.
Xinguang Restaurant was the originator of Shanghai’s innovative crab feast 方亮蟹宴, and now it bears the name of the founder Mr Fang Liang.
Mrs Fang helmed this shop in Huangpu, while Mr Fang ran the newer branch in Hongqiao. In September and October (lunar months) each year, diners from all over the world rush to Shanghai. Many of them are gluttons from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, as well as overseas Chinese. Tonight, Mrs Fang was not around as she was home watching the Olympics.
Even the appetisers were classic
The menu was quite spartan, you would not find a huge book with many choices. But everything selves was a classic.
Poaching the chicken in a brine with aromatics, the salted chicken homestyle 家乡咸鸡 was flavourful and still a bit rare. But what matter most was that it was tender and moist, and not overpowered by the brine.
This may seem simple, but to get Chinese coriander with smoked bean curd 香菜拌香干 as fragrant as they do, it requires lots of experience. Most are overpowering in sesame oil or coriander, other too much salt and soy sauce. Xinguang got the proportion all perfect.
Usually only the filets were served, but Xinguang served the entire fish. 糟黄鱼 Drunken Yellow Croaker was made with the entire fish, and not just cut pieces, so the presentation looked as good as it tasted.
The Piece de Resistance turned up drunk!
We came for the June Yellow, and this was what we got, starting with the crab in a drunken stupor.
绍兴醉蟹 (六月黄) Drunken Crabs were smaller than usual drunken crabs you get during the mature season after mid-autumn because they were just “teenagers” at this point of their life cycle. But because they were juvenile, the shell was softer and it made the drunken crab a better eat.
Xinguang is one of the few places these days that still serves there drunken crabs raw. This is because of their confidence in the source of the crabs. The family owns a crab hatchery and farm that would supply to the restaurant exclusively, so they control the entire quality process.
The Four Dharmas descended upon us
We started with what Mr Fang called the “Four Dharmas” 四大金刚 of the banquet – the four main highlights of the meal. The taste of the four courses ranges from light to heavy, and the texture changes from firm to intense.
Each portion per person was made up around 10 crabs. But the chefs and army of aunties have made the work of eating these crab craws go away. What was presented was the end result – Steamed Crab Claws 清蒸蟹钳, a wonderful stacked crab claws, sweet and succulent. This has been nicknamed 佛手托天 “The Buddha holding the sky” by gourmets from how it was presented.
After tasting the firmness of the craw, you now savour the tenderness of the crab legs. Sautéed Crab Legs 清炒蟹柳 were slight more intense in terms of taste, but more tender like a piece of tofu. Lightly sautéed together, it was meant to be the palate cleanser before what were to come.
Nicknamed the “Unveiling of the General” 将军显身, the crab banquet proceeded with Stir-Fry Whole Crab Meat 清炒蟹粉, a more robust flavour profile with totally different textures. Just like a battle weary general removing his armour, the crab meat together with the roe and fats was removed and sautéed together.
Next up, the reason why we all clamoured after the June Yellow. A plate of crab roe glistening with the crab oil, this was a cholesterol bomb. I took a spoonful of the Sautéed Crab Roe 清炒蟹膏, it felt like a very creamy uni but with the fattiness of foie gras. It had to be eaten with steamed white rice or maybe some noodles.
And then the main course
After savouring the June Yellow crab in its parts, the dinner moved to the main courses using the crab meat and roe.
Crab Meat Shark Fin Soup 蟹粉鱼翅羹 has more than just crab and shark fins. There were bits of sea cucumber, fish maw and other seafood cooked in a beautiful stew. All you need was a dash of Zhenjiang vinegar.
The last time I was here, I found the Steamed Noodles with Crab Meat 蟹粉拌面 to be bland in the first mouthful, and then I came to appreciate the intention of the chefs. As I chewed, the umami from the crab oil filled my mouth, and the noodles became secondary. Yet when I thought it was too intense, the noodles helped to bring back the balance.
And the finale to the crab banquet was Crab Meat Soup Dumpling 蟹粉小馄饨 (called wantons in Shanghai) with a filing of crab meat and pork. The soup base was chicken and pork stock, and the wantons provided the umami. It was a perfect (and warm) ending to a marvellous dinner!
And because crabs are consider a food that is heavy on the Ying side (very cooling to the body), we were all given each a nice cup of hot 红姜茶 Ginger Tea to bring the balance with the Yang (heatiness) of the ginger.
The waitresses and chefs have worked here for a long time, the oldest has worked here for over 25 years. They joked that if they had each bought an apartment in Shanghai when they first came over from Anhui, Jiangsu and other places, they would all become millionaires. Instead they had served a multitude of millionaires and luminaries that came through these humble doors.
Xinguang Restaurant 新光酒家方亮蟹宴(黄浦店)
中国 上海市 黄浦区天津路512号
Tel : +86 21 63223978
Date Visited : Jul 2021
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