Hairy Crabs at Wàn Hé Lóu 萬合樓


Hairy crab season falls around my birthday, during the period of late October and early November. I get to eat it as part of my annual birthday celebration. Other than my husband who loves it, another friend, SF, also enjoys it. SF and I were introduced to hairy crabs when our Shanghainese colleague brought us to try it in 1998 during our visit to the city. Then, he was horrified at how undignified we were at eating the tiny crustacean. We were picking it with our fingers, forgoing the tiny scissors and utensils. He had to demonstrate the art of eating hair crabs to us – how to cut the ends and pull the flesh out, that is, after we had scooped out the roe/sperm (?) and savour that first. SF and I were more used to the local crabs and the even bigger Sri Lanka crabs, which weigh around 1kg each. In contrast, most hairy crabs on sale here weigh between 150 – 170g.

So far, SF and I had our annual feast without fail and she most enjoyed the crabs at Capitol Restaurant. (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/capital-restaurant-%e9%a6%96%e9%83%bd%e9%85%92%e5%ae%b6-hairy-crab-set-review/)

This year, the price seems to be a little steep there and I found a restaurant offering 4 crabs for the price of three. On enquiry, we were told the crabs are between 150-170g. I know the bigger the crab, the more the roe, but I really can’t tell how big a 170g crab is. I decided to take a chance.

Last week, SF and I went to the restaurant near little India. We ordered the 3+1 crabs, a plate of vegetables and a plate of olive fried rice to share. We were all ready to devour the crabs. The small restaurants had photos of celebrities plastered on the wall, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? All around us, the diners preferred the set dinner, consisted of the restaurant signature dishes like lobster porridge, crispy lotus with salted egg, one hairy crab each, and some other dishes.

Our orders came. The dish of vegetables were nothing special, consisting of a stir-fried stalks and deep-fried leaves.

The olive fried rice was disappointing. I was expecting Thai style with generous mix of olives. This one here has sparse specks of black olives in the rice, which did nothing to the taste nor improved the blandness. The rice lacked wok-hae.

When the crabs came, I looked helplessly at SF. She shook her head at me, rolled her eyes and proceeded to demonstrate how to eat. The crabs were served with a tiny glass of ginger tea and a saucer of vinegar dip.

On opening the top shell, I was dismay at the lack of yellow cream (eggs in females and sperms in males). There were some dried bits of yellow but nothing like what I had before. SF chided me. We should have stuck to our tested restaurant. Still, she enjoyed teasing out the bits of flesh from the legs, leaving no legs untouched. I was more impatient, preferring the fatter parts and leaving the claws intact. My intention was the cream and not the meat. If I had wanted the meat, I would have gone for Sri Lankan crabs.

A few days later, I saw advertisements from other restaurants touting a crab for at least $55 each. That should be the one for me.

Our dinner costs us slightly more than $100, of which the crabs cost $80. This is probably not the place to eat hairy crabs, but judging from the other diners, perhaps I should go back to try their specialty dishes.

When you have an unsatisfying meal like that, SF and I want to satisfy our craving on another crab real soon, and this time, we are not stinging on it, but paying for the real McCoy.

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About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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