Hairy Crab 101
What is Hairy Crab
They’re a seasonal crab and the season is from around October, after Mid-Autumn Festival, to end of November but it varies slightly year to year. They’re called hairy crab because they’ve got patches of brownish hair right around the claws. It’s a Shanghainese dish and hairy crabs are very small, so it’s not about the meat in the crab like an Alaskan King Crab, but it’s all about the crab roe.
The most expensive and top quality hairy crabs, think the Bordeaux of wines, come from Yangcheng Lake (阳澄湖) in Jiangsu Province in China and they can be really insanely expensive ($100USD per kg is possible). And gender matters. It’s said that the females are more sought after because 1) they have more roe and 2) the roe tastes sweeter.
How to Eat Hairy Crab
You will always remember your first time eating hairy crab because you’ll think… How the heck do I do this? There are only two parts of the crab you can’t eat. Firstly, the gills, which are wispy-like parts on either side, called “dead man’s fingers” under the shell because it’s used to filter water and secondly, the heart because it’s got a “too cooling” effect on our body.
UPDATE: Since November 2016, there has been difficulty in importing crabs from Yangcheng Lake and Tai Lake into Hong Kong as the crabs have failed safety food standards. High levels of dioxin, a carcinogen, has been found in the crabs and; consequently, the mainland government has stopped exports of hairy crabs into Hong Kong. Some stores have been sourcing from other countries such as Japan and Taiwan for the hairy crabs; however, several crabs from Taiwan have also just been found to have unacceptable levels of dioxin. Please make sure to exercise caution and ask the restaurants where the crabs have been sourced and if they’ve been cleared of all safety food standards.
Cheapest and Most Local Experience
蘇記大闸蟹 (no English name)
This place is so totally local that it will only work if you have someone that speaks Cantonese in your group.
Every year, they have an all-you-can-eat hairy crab promotion and last year we tried it at the Kowloon Bay location (now closed) whereby it is all-you-can-eat hairy crab, all-you-eat hotpot and all-you-can-drink ginger tea for $98 (exclusive of drinks and service charge). There are stipulations though of course. This was only for the first 30 customers and they start giving tickets at 5pm; dining is at 5.30pm, and you’re only limited to 75 minutes. I would imagine this year to be similar.
For the price, it was still a really good deal, but don’t expect to hear any talking. Everybody is too busy trying to eat as many crabs as possible in those 75 minutes. It was a decent experience, especially if you never venture out to Tsuen Wan. The crabs were good quality and it’s especially great for people that are just looking to taste and experience what hairy crab is without shelling out a lot of money.
Here’s the link to their Facebook page so you can get all the details. The menus are written in only Chinese and only Cantonese is spoken here so see if you can get a local to go with you. It’s well worth the super local experience!
13 Yi Pei Square, Tsuen Wan
Best Value for Money
I went to this restaurant a couple years ago for hairy crab and loved it. The price point was also very decent as well (~$600HKD) for a hairy crab set meal. This is a great choice if you want to go with a bunch of friends and you definitely won’t break the bank. To this day, I still remember the deliciousness of the hairy crab-meat sauce that they gave us to spread on top of our baguette bread. Nomnomnoms.
5/F., Citic Tower, 1 Tim Mei Avenue, Admiralty (Other locations available).
An absolute oldie but a goodie. I have had several Hong Kong locals tell me this is the only place they go to for hairy crab, so this is the absolute old classic. It’s going to be slightly more expensive than East Ocean Seafood Restaurant but well worth the price if you’re just doing this once a year. The hairy crab they serve here will most likely be a hairy crab set meal aswell (~$700HKD).
Unit B, 17/F, Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay (Other locations available).
The Michelin Star Menu
One of the best restaurants money can buy to try hairy crab in Hong Kong. This is especially great for those who are absolute hairy crab lovers. It’s definitely recommended for those that want to splurge once a year for an amazing and decadent meal, which usually consists of at least 8 courses of hairy crab goodness. Please do bear in mind that they usually have a very authentic and traditional menu, for example, last year, bird’s nest and sea cucumber were on the menu.
G/F, InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
The Fusion Style
At this highly rated modern Cantonese restaurant they take old classics and give them a modern twist. For example, on last year’s menu, they had a hairy crab roe soufflé, so if you’ve tried all the traditional and authentic hairy crab menus, Mott 32 is a great choice to try something a little different!
Basement, Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road Central, Central
Like hairy crab and all other sorts of seafood? Don’t forget to try out the famous Typhoon Shelter Crab (also known as chili crab) as well. If you’re looking for the ultimate local experience, why not join Virginia’s “Eat Seafood on a Sampan Boat” dinner tour? You’ll get the unique experience of dining on fresh clams, razor clams, typhoon shelter crab, etc., on a traditional Sampan boat on the waters at the typhoon shelter. If that’s not authentic, we don’t know what is.
Virginia is a tour guide by day at Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours, creative blogger by night at The Smoo Diaries and avid traveller by weekend. Virginia is a proud Vancouverite now in Hong Kong exploring all corners of Asia. She’s currently discovering her Asian roots – one flight, one noodle and one Canto slang at a time. *slurp*
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