November 7, 2009

Crabulous trip to Shanghai day 3: the best hairy crab feast

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I had a pretty easy schedule today - the only important event on my schedule was dinner with friends. So I strolled around my neighborhood late in the morning, and wandered back to Sapar (新疆伊寧遠征餐廳) for a casual lunch.

I finally got to have plov (新疆抓飯), one of my favorite dishes in the Uygur / Central Asian cuisine.  The rice is typically fried with carrots and squash, with liberal use of oil (or was it lamb fat?).  The lamb today was a little on the dry side, not as moist and juicy as I would have liked.  I made up for it by ordering a couple of skewers of lamb shashlik (羊肉串), which were pretty succulent and yummy even though I didn't get the fatty bits.  The best plov I've ever had was still the one from Samarkand last year.  I can still remember how beautiful it looked, and my mouth still waters at the thought of it.

I walked around a bit more and headed back to the house to read and rest a little.  I met up with a friend late in the afternoon, and sat at one of the open air cafes on the Nanjing Road pedestrian shopping street for a while.  Tall, modern skyscrapers intermixed with French renaissance style buildings from the 20s and 30s...and an endless stream of tourists, both local and foreign.

The main event today, of course, was the hairy crab feast at Xinguang Restaurant (新光酒家).  It has long been my favorite place to enjoy hairy crab.  None of my local friends have heard of it, and I was determined to change that.

In recent years the restaurant has started offering "set menus" for patrons.  Rather than ordering individual dishes, the set menu now includes one hairy crab for each patron plus 4-6 of the "greatest hits" from the a la carte menu - with the portions sized according to the number of guests at the table.

The first to arrive was a plate of steamed crab claws (清蒸蟹鉗).  I was taken aback initially at the small portion, until I remembered that we were only a table of four, while I came with larger groups on my previous visits.  Yes, the best thing about dining at Xinguang is that if you didn't want to, you didn't have to get your hands dirty at all!  Someone has gone through the trouble of removing all the shells for you, so that all you need to do is to take a big spoon, scoop up the meat and shove it in your wide, open mouth!  How cool is that?!

The second of the "greatest hits" was the stir-fried crab legs with asparagus (蟹柳燴蘆筍).  Once again the staff has taken the time to extract the meat of the crab legs, and they went very well with the asparagus.  I'm lovin' it.

The stir-fried whole crab meat (清炒蟹粉) was absolutely decadent.  A whole plate of crab meat and roe, scooped up by spoons into hungry, waiting mouths...and that yellow crab fat...who cares if I can hear my arteries clogging up?!  I'd rather eat now and die a happy man.

The final plate was stir-fried crab roe with Chinese transparent bean curd (蟹膏炒銀皮) - actually it's not bean curd but rather glass pappardelle made from mung beans.  Yes, boys and girls, that translucent sticky stuff from the male hairy crab is actually the sperm.  It's one of the few times you'll find guys like me who will happily lap up the seed of another without feeling weird about it.  And guys, if you're wondering what else you've been eating without knowing that it's some creature's sperm or reproductive organs, you might wanna check this out... or gimme a shout.  Anyway, I digress...  This was one of the best dishes to be had at the restaurant.  The consistency of the noodles was similar to that of the "roe", and how much yellow crab fat was used in making the dish is plain to see.  Need I say more?

The noodles with crab meat (蟹肉拌麵) was also very yummy... as the oily mixture coats the noodles and make it go down real well.  They ran out of crab roe wontons (蟹粉餛飩), so we were offered glutinous rice balls in fermented rice (酒釀丸子) as a substitute.  The weird thing was that they insisted on serving this before we had our steamed crab, because procedure dictates that the crab comes last, even though the rice balls is a dessert course is something that one should finish the meal with...

And we did finally have to use our hands to eat the steamed hairy crab (清蒸大閘蟹).  The ones we had were pretty decent in size.  While I didn't specifically ask about the size, I thought I overheard a waiter telling the next table that they weighed half catty (半斤) each, which would make them gigantic.  I doubt they were that big, but they were definitely at least six taels or more.

We were definitely very full from the feast.  I was very, very happy with the meal, and I hope that my friends enjoyed it as much as I did!

One thing about Xinguang... it's a restaurant that many locals have never heard of, partly because most people find it overpriced.  Crab is something that many people enjoy in the privacy of their homes, as you get your hands dirty and inevitably wind out with messy piles of broken shells in front of you.  Most locals also wouldn't pay a premium to get someone else to extract the meat, as one of the joys of eating crab is the extraction process itself.  On this particular visit - just like each prior visit - I heard no Shanghainese spoken by my fellow patrons.  The clientele has always been mix of Hongkie, Japanese, Taiwanese and lao wai (老外).  I guess things haven't changed much since my first visit at the turn of the century...

1 comment:

johannes said...

totally must go there next autumn...


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