Cracking into Hangzhou's Crayfish Scene
China’s fishery industry produced about 600,000 tons of crayfish last year, about two-thirds of which were consumed by people in eastern areas such as Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and Shanghai, according to industry data.
Anyone with even a passing understanding of the region’s snack culture has undoubtedly witnessed firsthand this appetite for these tasty crustaceans, with steamed crayfish — in Chinese known as xiaolongxia — being a perennial favorite among outdoor noshers during summer months. In Hangzhou, the competition is heating up once again as xiaolongxia vendors across the city battle it out for the attention of hungry customers.
For visitors to Hangzhou, Shanghai Daily is here to introduce two of the city’s hottest crayfish sellers, so grab your napkins and an icy beverage and let’s get cracking! The shabby stalls which line Wangjiang Road may not have much to recommend them during the daytime. But once the curtain of night descends, things change dramatically.
As the sun sets, lights are strung up and the smell of cooked seafood lures diners toward vendors with rickety stools and aged, oil-stained menus. The stall with the longest line has no official name, but is usually just referred to as Wangjiangmen Crayfish. Located at number 227, this is the first restaurant at the entrance of the Wangjiangmen block.
According to local lore, Wangjiangmen Crayfish was actually the first crayfish vendor to set up shop on this road. The many smaller peers which surround it are said to be imitators of this venerable snack institution. Established 11 years ago and run by a local family, Wangjiangmen Crayfish serves up crayfish the traditional Hangzhou way — that is, stir-fried and then boiled. Customers can choose from three degrees of spiciness — mild, medium and extra hot.
“I don’t have any secret recipe, just ordinary seasoning,” says chef Zhou Hongwei, adding scallions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, sugar and pepper. Cucumber is also used to absorb grease.
“Many crayfish restaurants use dark brown crayfish which have thick shells, but we choose the thin-shell breed which has more tender, sweet meat,” says Wang Xiaojing, the daughter of the owner.
Despite its simple appearance and the unassuming character of its proprietors, this small stall of only around 30 chairs sells more than 150 kilograms of crayfish most days. A pan of xiaolongxia can cost 150 yuan and serve two people.
For those who might be turned off by the long lines, the neighboring stalls are also worth a try.
Address: 227 Wangjiang Rd Tel: (0571) 8180-0131
Restaurateurs the world over love spreading stories about the celebrities who have enjoyed their food. At Lobster Best, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and his friends are known to be frequent guests. The fame of these patrons seems to have helped business. Indeed, anyone who shows up after 6:30pm will likely have to wait at least half an hour for a seat.
On the menu are six different kinds of crayfish, including those flavored in soy sauce, garlic and salt-and-pepper. Many Western diners prefer the garlic flavored crayfish, as they are spiced and salted enough to add flavor but without overpowering the taste of the crayfish meat. Boiled crayfish are also on the menu for those who want an even more mild flavor experience. On the other side of the taste spectrum, those who love fiery flavors are encouraged to try the spicy crayfish. A Thirteen Spice flavoring is also available — which, as the name implies, includes crayfish prepared with 13 herbs and spices.
Prices at Lobster Best usually start at 6 yuan (97 US cents) per crayfish. Large crayfish — which, according to a waitress, are “as long as your hand” — can sell for upwards of 10 yuan.
Other menu items featuring crayfish include crayfish congee and crayfish miangeda (a Chinese dish similar to gnocchi), both rare items for crayfish vendors.
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