Sunday, November 3, 2019

Time for Hairy Crabs

Outside of white truffles, I would say hairy crab is one food ingredient that I relate most to the coming of the fall season. And glad we got to share our first hairy crab meal this year at our favorite Shanghainese restaurant with some friends we haven’t seen for a while. We always thought Shanghai Fraternity Association is a place perfect for casual dinner gatherings in the area, and their food has always been decent.

Much to our delight, this year’s hairy crab season started much earlier than last year at around mid-October. And this time, we went for some of our favorite dishes at the restaurant plus a couple cooked with Xie Fen (蟹粉), or picked hairy crab meat and roes. I like the pleasure of picking meat out of the whole crab shells myself but sometimes I certainly don't mind someone already did the work for us, leaving us with just the best bits.

This evening we started with tea-smoked eggs (茶熏蛋), gently smoked with Longjing green tea and served with the soft egg yolk in the center, and the deep-fried tofu skin rolls, aka vegetarian goose. The egg was something we order almost every single time, and we thought the restaurant served one of the best version of vegetarian goose in town, with layers of thin tofu skin wrapped with julienned vegetables in the middle. The wrapper was warm and crisp and the filling came with a hint of acidity from the pickles mixed in.

We often went for the sautéed river shrimp done with salted egg yolk batter, but this time, we went for the simpler (and more traditional) version of just with tea leaves (龍井河蝦仁). It’s light and delicate with a pleasant aroma of tea. All it needed was just a spoonful of dark vinegar to bring out the mild umami flavor. The "dragon beard" mandarin fish (龍鬚桂魚) was another of our favorite, with the whole fish carefully fillet and cut into thin strips (like "dragon beard"), than sautéed with pickled woodear mushrooms for some contrast in texture and flavor. It looked simple but took good skills from the chef to perfect, from cutting to working the wok.

After a hearty bowl of chicken soup with wonton dumplings, it’s the turn for our first crab dish of Xie Fen Fen Pi (蟹粉粉皮), with soft jelly noodles cooked and topped with generous spoonfuls of the golden crab roes and meat. The portion was not as big as the one we had in Shanghai a few months ago, but it’s still more than enough for the five of us, and was rich and flavorful even down to the last bite with every bit of the flavor taken in by the jelly noodles with a bouncy texture. Our second crab dish was the xialongbao (蟹粉小籠包), or soup dumplings, with bits of xie fen mixed in to the pork for the filling and steamed in the same way as the conventional version. Not as sumptuous as our first dish with the overflowing meat and fatty roes covering the whole plate but this is perfect if one just want a taste of this seasonal delicacy.

And we finished with a few more dishes, including the guo te (鍋貼), or pan-fried pork dumplings, sautéed peas with ham (火丁甜豆) (a seemingly basic dish until you realized they picked the peas from the pods one by one by hand), and the fluffy sesame and scallion pancakes (芝麻蔥油餅) (especially good as they delivered to us straight from the kitchen still steamy hot)

With mostly seafood dishes, we went for a single bottle of white from Piedmont. Medium to full-bodied with deep straw color, distinct floral aroma and honey, ripe stone fruits on the palate with good acidity. It's clean and refreshing with the body that stood up well against the rich and delicate crab flavor. Given last year’s crab season was swift and shortened, I am sure this is only the first of many more crab meals I am going to have this year.

When? October 17 2019
Where? Level 1-3, South China Building, 1 Wyndham Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Xie Fen Fen Pi – Jelly Noodles with Crab Meat and Roes
Drinks? 2013 Gaja Rossj-Bass Langhe DOC

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