Hairy Crab

Once upon a time, there lived a young female mitten crab named Sally.   She was a tiny little crustacean, less than 10 centimetres wide, and had pincers covered with dense patches of hair.   Thankfully, Brazilians were not the vogue for females like Sally, and she reveled in her hirsuteness.   She laughed and frolicked and basked in the summer warmth in the river that she called her home.  But for all the gaiety in that river with her hairy little friends, she felt empty inside.  As she approached adulthood, she felt certain yearnings, feelings that could not be satisfied in her swirling gurgling home.   The weather was cool, a sure sign that autumn was approaching, and leaves of orange and gold floated along the river bed, painting the water an earthen shade of copper and rust.   Her instincts told her to head towards the estuary.  She didn’t know why she had to leave her home.   She only knew that she had to.  As she approached the estuary, she was greeted by other young adult mitten crabs just like her, discovering their new home in saline waters.  It was there that she found love.   He was a chappie named Henry (What? Were you expecting Harry?), bristly, stubbly and sexy.  Together, they danced and mated in the luxuriant marine waters, and because no one taught them about birth control,  Sally quickly discovered that she was pregnant.   As the dark wintry days approached, she moved further into the cold marine waters.   Love knows no bounds, they say, and Sally knew that this was her destiny.   As her young ones hatched, Sally drew her last breath.   The little orphans fed on plankton, and when the weather turned from winter to spring, they swam towards the brackish water where Henry met Sally, and when they were old enough, they moved to Sally’s old home, where the freshwaters gleamed in the warm summer sun.

This is an old fashioned love story.   Perhaps romance between crabs isn’t anything like what we humans picture it to be, but all the elements of survival, reproduction and attachment are there.   Mitten (or hairy) crabs have a unique life cycle where they move from brackish waters to clear waters and back to saline waters over one life cycle (about 5 years).   The best time to eat hairy crabs is in Autumn just after the mating season.  Hairy crabs are prized for their creamy roe – what is generally called the Caviar of the East.  Crabs that hail from the Yang Cheng Lake are the most sought after, but crabs from the Tai Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, are fast gaining popularity here in Malaysia.  Having tried both, the differences are subtle, although the crabs from Yang Cheng Lake have slightly creamier roe and sweeter flesh.

The Hairy Crab Set Menu at Dragon-i (available from October to December), priced at RM128 nett per person (for a minimum of 3 persons), features a six-course Shanghainese meal at outlets at Pavilion KL, 1 Utama Shopping Centre, The Curve, Mid Valley Megamall, Sunway Pyramid and Queensbay Mall in Penang.   The diner gets one medium crab weighing at approximately 200grams (larger ones are also available, ala carte and priced according to weight, at between 250 to 300 grams each).  Hairy crabs at Dragon-i are from Suzhou’s Tai Lake (flown in weekly).   Black vinegar and julienned ginger are provided on the side, and these serve a purpose too.   Hairy crabs are said to be “cooling”, and the vinegar and ginger concoction counteracts this effect.  One can also choose to enjoy the hairy crabs with Chinese “hua diao jiu” (rice wine), but this does not come with the set.

The menu also includes Dragon-i’s signature Steamed Shanghainese Dumplings (xiu long bao) with Hairy Crab Roe, Double-boiled Superior Chicken Soup with Fish Maw and Bamboo Pith (a very delicately flavoured soup with contrasting textures), Sauteed Vegetables (baby bok choi) with Crab Roe, Yong Chow style Fried Rice and a popular traditional dessert, Sesame Glutinous Rice Dumplings (tong yuen) in Ginger Broth.  The servings are moderate; each person is served one crab, one XLB, and two glutinous rice dumplings.  The XLB has good skin elasticity and delicious filling.   It comes attractively presented on individual carrying baskets, thus preventing mishaps when transporting the XLB from serving plate to one’s own plate.  The fried rice is substantial (with its lovely fragrance and distinct grains) and the vegetables, sufficient.

Can’t live without chilli

Double boiled Superior Chicken Soup with Fish Maw and Bamboo Pith

Sauteed Vegetables with Crab Roe

Xiao Long Bao with Hairy Crab Roe

Yong Chow style Fried Rice

Sally’s children – steamed

Sally’s children, Part 2 – creamy roe within

Yangzhou-born Chef Kung Yu Hung – has over 20 years experience including stints at several famous Hong Kong restaurants. He is one of six master chefs from mainland China now helming the kitchens at Dragon-i outlets.

(Note: Thank you to the management of Dragon-i and PRkraft (who facilitated this event) for your kind invitation to sample this menu.)