Unloved exotic crabs find a place back home on Chinese tables

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 4:27am

Mainland fanciers of hairy crabs may not get to taste the German variety, but Hongkongers have been able to buy the European crustacean for the past few years.

It is not well known that the city also imports the crabs from Europe, to which the animals migrated about 100 years ago aboard European trading vessels.

Joey Law Nga-wai opened FreshLodge in Happy Valley a year ago to sell hairy crabs from the Netherlands and sold a few thousand kilograms last autumn, she said. She is expecting another good season this time.

A mainland shopping website kicked up a storm recently by accepting pre-orders for German hairy crabs, which are claimed to be "cleaner" than the ones raised on the mainland.

Juhuasuan - a subsidiary of e-shopping platform Taobao - took 12,000 pre-orders for German mitten crabs but was warned by the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau that it had not received approval to import the delicacy.

Most of the mitten crabs sold in Hong Kong come from the mainland and the most popular variety is from Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu. Top-grade crabs can cost more than HK$200 each.

The European variety is relatively cheaper as the crab population has mushroomed there and they are not popular as a food item. They are found in the wild, as opposed to the mainland crabs, which are farmed.

"European crabs have longer legs, whiter gills and are livelier as they live in cleaner waters. The meat is sweeter, but we can't guarantee that there will be as much fat in them," Law said.

The biggest selling point is that the crabs are caught in less polluted waters.

Law sold three small crabs for HK$100, but the bigger ones cost more than HK$100 each.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, tried a German crab recently.

"It has a different taste from Yangcheng Lake crabs. The texture is rougher," he said.

Hong Kong and mainland importers realised Europeans did not want mitten crabs in their waters, and sending them back had earning potential, he added.