Eating crayfish is a summer tradition in Shanghai. Photo: CFP
When Nicolas Cage was spotted in Shanghai's streets in late May, he was buying seafood at the fish market on Tongchuan Road. When fan-snapped photos went viral across the Internet, Shanghai Web users joked: "Is he there for xiaolongxia?"
The peak season for savoring xiaolongxia, or crayfish, usually starts in late May. When the weather gets hotter in July and August, it is customary for Shanghai residents to enjoy several basins of crayfish late at night. The Global Times scoured town for the most-recommended places to enjoy the seasonal delicacy.
Shouning Road is a bustling strip of seafood restaurants selling crayfish. Photo: CFP
In the summertime, Shouning Road is practically synonymous with crayfish. Renowned for an entire street lined with seafood restaurants, it is packed on a summer night, when people come from every corner of the city to meet friends and enjoy beers, the perfect accompaniment to crayfish.
Despite a poor dining environment of oily tables, irritated waitstaff and limited space, Changshou Mianguan, the best-known eatery on the strip, has the most customers waiting outside its doors. It has several venues dotted along the street, and waitstaff will lead customers to one of its branches once it has vacant tables. The price for crayfish ranges from 40 ($6.52) to 60 yuan per jin (500 grams), depending on the type of crayfish and the cooking style.
Spicy is the most popular flavor here. Diners peel off the shells and dip the meat in a saucer of vinegar. Disposable plastic gloves are provided to keep hands clean. Other late night delicacies, such as oysters and barbequed meat, are also available in almost all the restaurants on the road. By the roadside, there are also many stalls selling various snacks.
Eating crayfish is a summer tradition in Shanghai. Photo: Courtesy of Pan Hao
Tongchuan Road Seafood Market
The famed Tongchuan Road Seafood Market is a top destination for home cooks to buy fresh, live crayfish for their tables.
One of the biggest seafood markets in Shanghai, it boasts almost every fish imaginable. At this time of year, almost every stall displays crayfish prominently. Part of the fun of strolling along Tongchuan Road is wandering through the stalls and bargaining a price with the vendors. As with most wet markets in China, the stalls sell a similar range of products so if you don't agree with the price they offer, just turn around to leave, and they may entice you back with a lower offer. The price of crayfish this year is reported to be around 15 to 30 yuan per jin, depending on the quality and size.
After netting a fresh catch of crayfish, you can take them straight home to prepare yourself, or you can head to a slew of restaurants at the corner of Tongchuan Road and Lanxi Road, and pay the chefs there to cook them for you. Xin Jiu Long Tang is one of the longest-running establishments near the fish market, and it currently has two branches located at Tongchuan Road (No.920) and Lanxi Road (No.419). The restaurant's signature dish is longxia liangchi, literally two ways to eat crayfish. Longxia paofan (crayfish simmered in congee) is another popular option.
Fishermen catch crayfish on Yangcheng Lake.
If you would like to cast your net a little wider, Yangcheng Lake, located in Jiangsu Province about two hours drive from downtown Shanghai, is renowned for its hairy crabs in autumn and top quality crayfish in summer.
"Crayfish are the 'side products' of hairy crabs. We do not cultivate them on purpose," Pan Hao, of Fuhao Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab restaurant, told the Global Times. "They live in the same water with the hairy crabs we cultivate, so they eat the same food that we feed the crabs. Their living environment and quality of life is the same as the crabs, which ensures they are fat and delicious."
Pan said it is highly recommended to book at least two days in advance if you want to sample the crayfish from Yangcheng Lake. "When we receive reservations, we will catch crayfish in the lake and raise them ourselves for two days, so the number of crayfish is rather limited," he said.
According to Pan, the crayfish he serves to customers weigh at least 50 grams each. "We don't serve any under 50 grams," he said. "And you can tell how clean the lake water is as you will see the gills of the crayfish are as white as snow."
As the restaurant is actually a boat on the lake, visitors can also go fishing on the deck. If you catch any, the restaurant will be happy to cook them for you at no additional cost.
How to get there: Take the Shanghai-Nanjing Highway and turn onto S5 heading in the direction of Changshu at Kunshan. Turn onto S48 heading in the direction of Wuxi and exit at Yangchenghu North (aka Bacheng North) and arrive at the Yangcheng Lake Toll Station. Call 138-1611-8321 and the restaurant owner will pick you up from there.