Got Crabs? The Top 5 Hairy Crab Destinations in China

Culture, Travel | by James Weir
Posted: November 15th, 2011 | Updated: August 18th, 2014 | Comments
Shanghai crab

Eating hairy crab (dà zhá xiè, 大閘蟹) or "Chinese mitten crab" is a messy but rewarding undertaking. The seasonal peak for these hirsute crustaceans kicks off in October but reaches its pinnacle in November and at restaurants around the country, and especially on the eastern seaboard, you'll find 'em served up in lustrous orange-shelled pairs, one male and one female. The ladies are generally sweeter than their male counterparts (aren't they always?), and are known for their delightfully bright orange roe.

It's wise to dine with a hairy crab veteran if you've never before gone elbow deep into this sloppy dish, or at the very least you should prime yourself with this guide to eating hairy crabs. But if you feel like dining blind, there are two things you must know: avoid eating the shell (who ever would have guessed?) and the gills. Everything else is fair game. Snap those latex gloves, tie your bib, and get cracking! While it's easy to find hairy crab all over Shanghai, the more adventurous diner can also make their way out to the banks of the waters these celebrated crabs call home. Jiangsu Province is home to the Yangtze River Delta and East China Sea estuaries where the crabs get together and procreate, making it the epicenter for hairy crab production.

Today we'll be looking at five of the best hairy crab destinations. If we've forgotten any of your favorite spots, let us know in the comments where we can find the most delectable hairy crab this side of the Yangtze.


Chongming Island

Chongming Island has experienced a surge in popularity since the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel and Bridge project was finished in 2009. The enormous island boasts parks across the board, protected wetlands, a bird sanctuary and some of the best fishing in the region. The crabs here aren't quite as big as their northern brothers, but locals claim the water's freshness makes for a better, more tender product. A day or weekend trip out to Chongming Island is practically guaranteed to be time well spent. Who can argue with autumn breezes, the expanse of open fields and the crack of crab shells?

How to get there:

Head to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum (Shànghǎi Kējì Guǎn, 上海科技馆) on Metro Line 2. Grab a bus (Shēnchóng èrxiàn, 申崇二线) just outside of Exit 6 to Chenjia Town (Chénjiā Zhèn, 陈家镇) on the eastern part of the island. From there the island is easily navigable either by bike or taxi.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry from the outskirts of Shanghai. Regular ferries leave from the port of Baoyang Lu Harbor (Bǎoyáng Lù Mǎtóu, 宝杨路码头) and drop passengers at Nanmen Port (Nánmén, 南门) on Chongming Island.


Yangcheng Lake

Yangcheng Lake is the heart of the hairy crab industry and the critters from this lake are most highly-prized. An indication of just how important an origin this is can be seen in the practice of assigning each and every crab harvested from Yangcheng Lake with an individually numbered tag. Of course, tags can be faked, or bought, and don't even begin to address the issue of 'transplanted' crabs (who spend the majority of their lives elsewhere, only to be deposited in Yangcheng Lake for the few months prior to harvest season). But don't be dissuaded! The region produces over 1,500 tons of crab each fall, and with a little luck and a good eye, you'll be eating well in no time.

If you feel you need a little more time to really fine tune your eye for Yangcheng Lake crab, then why not make it a weekend of it. Check into the picturesque Fairmont Yangcheng Lake hotel for a truly indulgent experience!

How to get there:

Take a minibus from Suzhou North Bus Station (Sūzhōu Qìchē Běi Zhàn, 苏州汽车北站) to Kunshan (Kūnshān, 昆山). Once in Kunshan, take bus no. 107 or 118 to the lake.

High-speed trains head directly from Shanghai to Yangcheng Lake via Shanghai Railway Station (Shànghǎi Huǒchē Zhàn, 上海火车站), Shanghai West Railway Station (Shànghǎi Xī Zhàn, 上海西站) and Hongqiao Railway Station (Hóngqiáo Zhàn, 虹桥站) and take about half an hour.



Shajiabang is a quaint village on the shore of the Shajiabang River, located within Changshu City (Chángshú, 常熟) and outside of Suzhou. Just upstream from Yangcheng Lake, the crabs in the waters of Shajiabang are significantly less famous, but not significantly less flavorful, than their downstream brethren. Like Tai Lake, the biggest draw of Shajiabang is it's relative peace from the hordes of foodies that take to the region every fall.

How to get there:

Take a bus from Shanghai Long-distance Bus Station (Shànghǎi Chángtú Kèyùn Zǒng Zhàn, 上海长途客运总站) or Shanghai South Bus Station (Shànghǎi Qìchē Nán Zhàn, 上海汽车南站) to Changshu Long Distance Bus Station (Chángshú Shì Chángtú Qìchē Zhàn, 常熟市长途汽车站; RMB 43, every 20-30 mins, 2 hrs) or Changshu North Bus Station (Chángshú Shì Qìchē Běi Zhàn, 常熟市汽车北站; RMB 43, every 20-30 mins, about 1 hr 40 mins). From here hop in a cab to the lake for about RMB 25.


Tai Lake

Tai Lake (Tai Hu) can be found in the deep south of Jiangsu in the small city of Wuxi, on the border of Zhejiang Province. Though recent years have been unkind to the reputation of the lake's water quality, the shallow eastern edges remain clear and teeming with healthy, hairy crabs. Tai Lake is a great alternative to the significantly busier (and smaller) Yangcheng Lake. Restaurants abound, and you can kick back, relax and dig in.

How to get there:

Take bus no. 1 from the North Bus Station in Wuxi (Wúxī Qìchē Běi Zhàn, 无锡汽车北站) and get off at the last stop (about 30 minutes). Buses K87 and K1 run from Wuxi Train Station (Wúxī Huǒchē Zhàn, 无锡火车站) to Turtle Head Island scenic area (Yuántóuzhǔ, 鼋头渚). Alternatively hop in a cab and ask for "Tài Hú."


Qin Lake

Legend has it that the hairy crabs of Qin Lake are the toughest crabs around. The distance from the estuaries where the crabs spawn is not insignificant, so the crabs of Qin Lake are larger and more muscular than those found closer to the sea. It's a good destination for true crab connoisseurs that want to run the gamut on different tasting crabs.

How to get there:

If coming from south or east of Qin Lake, fly to Wuxi or take a train, then you'll need a long-distance bus to Jiangyan City (Jiāngyàn Shì, 姜堰市). From the west of the lake, go through Yangzhou. After arriving, take a taxi out to the lake. 

Happy crabbing, folks!

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