Yangcheng Lake

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Hairy crabs (dàzhá xiè, 大闸蟹) are a favorite meal among Chinese, who delight in the sweetness of their meat and roe. Also known as Chinese mitten crabs, hairy crabs can be found ready cooked, quite alive in tanks in restaurants or bundled up alive and tied with string in grocery stores or on the street. They can even be found behind the glass panes of vending machines around the country, but the most famous place to nosh on the China's most cherished crustaceans is Yangcheng Lake (Yángchéng Hú, 阳澄湖) to the northeast of Suzhou in Kunshan (Kūnshān, 昆山).

Every autumn (specifically the ninth and tenth months of the lunar calendar) Chinese gourmands descend upon the lake in droves from Shanghai, Suzhou and beyond to dine on Yangcheng Lake hairy crab at one of the many restaurants and hotels nearby. Some even take to the lake to munch on the seasonal catch in traditional boats.

The hairy crabs of Yangcheng Lake (some of which are transplants, born elsewhere) are said to be the tastiest of all, their flavor born of the lake’s natural environment. Sunlight easily reaches the bottom of the 2 meter-deep (7 ft) lake, encouraging robust growth and ensuring the crabs have plenty to eat. The hard clay bottom is said to give the crabs their distinct flavor and encourages them to work their legs harder, resulting in larger, more delicious limbs.

Eating hairy crab can be a messy affair. Generally served whole, you have to work to get down to the sweet meat and the roe inside, which is considered the tastiest part of the crab, particularly from females. The crab is usually served steamed with vinegar for dipping.

 

Yangcheng Lake is just one of many places to find these hirsute denizens of the water. Check out the top 5 places to get hairy crabs in China. But before you go, make sure you know how to eat hairy crab.

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