You’re out in a restaurant that would certainly rank above the average noodle house, the table cloths are white and starched and some kindly soul has the class (and funds) to order lobster, or maybe crab, at which point the doomed critters are promptly sieved out of their miserable tank, boiled and served. In their shells. Impenetrable. Leaving you to make the choice between politely pinning them down with your chopsticks and securing a small pinch of flesh, due decorum all the while maintained in keeping with the starched white table cloths, or else throwing caution to the wind, along with your chopsticks, and getting stuck in like Obelix at a victory banquet.
Shanghaiist generally goes for the latter option, and ends up looking like one of those snaggle-toothed sharks surrounded by a semi-circle of crustracean debris, but we find the whole thing deeply frustrating. For a start, it ruins the whole “ladylike elegance and poise” thing that we occasionally attempt to cultivate, and secondly, the ratio of cracking, snuffling, sucking and accidental pinging of small shards across the room to actual crab or lobster meat consumed is rather like the male to female ratio in Guandong. It looks good for the crustacean. Well, it did before it got plunged into boiling water.
It’s not to be expected that everyone might sympathise with these sentiments, but for those who do, either head for a 22-star restaurant where they do all the hard work for you, serving the finished product in a small coulis-drizzled quenelle, OR head for Shanghai Classical Hotel in the Yuyuan, where one of 46 “crab-openers” will assist you in your crab-fest. Shen Liqiong is one such saviour, and has been plying her trade for over 17 years. Now a master of the craft, she can not only deconstruct, but also then reconstruct (for those of us who want to look like we’re doing it all by ourselves) one of what the Shanghai Daily describes as “eight-legged” creatures in just four minutes.
Do Chinese hairy crabs have eight legs? Shanghaiist is still sore from a pub quiz defeat on Saturday night, when it was discovered that crabs do in fact have ten legs. The pincers count. We will not be forgetting this in a hurry. Notwithstanding, the performance of Shen and her colleagues serves as a real crowd-pleaser, and has done since 2000, when the service started. “Seeing my customers satisfied is even better than enjoying the crabmeat”, says Shen. One thing’s for sure, she’d get an extra-delighted smile from an “elegant and poised” Shanghaiist should we one day find ourselves at her table.