On Sunday, we enjoyed our first hairy crab of the season for the ridiculously eye-popping price of RMB15 at the Lisboa Yum Yum Pot Restaurant at Infiniti Plaza (138 Huaihai Zhong Lu), and it tasted not too bad. Under the terms of the promotion (see picture on the right), each diner is limited to one crab to be consumed at the restaurant (ie., you can’t get it at that price as a takeaway), and if you want more, you’ll have to pay more at RMB28 which is still a very good price. At first we wondered how the hell the restaurant could make a profit at that kind of price but all questions disappeared by the time we left the restaurant, stomachs content. If this was a marketing gimmick, it worked on us alright.
And then yesterday we came across a report that informed us the RMB15 hairy crabs we had the day before was a sign of tough economic times. As Chinese consumers tighten their belts amidst the financial crisis, Bloomberg says sales of the hairy crab has been hit hard:
Sales of hairy crabs are down by as much as 40 percent midway through the October-November peak season compared with previous years, said Li Bing, who runs a 12-hectare crab farm at Yangcheng Lake, a 90-minute drive from Shanghai. Day trippers come to dine at restaurants that line the lake — famed for supplying the delicacy to Mao Zedong in 1958.
“Customers who used to come two or three times a week now come once a fortnight,” said Li, 40, who has put on hold his plans to recruit distributors in other cities. “I never expected the economy to deteriorate so quickly.”
Li used to send an average of 200 kilograms a day of hairy crabs to hotels and restaurants in Shanghai in past years. This year, he has averaged about half that.
Hairy crabs from Yangcheng Lake command a premium and many Shanghai residents typically look forward to making that annual pilgrimage to the lake every autumn. Whereas previously drivers would have problems finding parking lots, this year, we’re told the carpark is half-empty.
And hairy crabs are “not the only culinary casualty”, says Bloomberg. Suppliers of exotic Chinese herbal products, such as the “caterpillar fungus”, have also been hit hard this year:
Jin Tongyun, chairman of Yizhi Agricultural Co. Ltd. in Shanghai, said prices of the company’s caterpillar fungus have fallen to between 40,000 yuan ($5,861) and 100,000 yuan a kilogram, from as much as 160,000 yuan a year ago.
The fungus, a parasite that kills caterpillars before growing out of their desiccated shells, is found predominantly in Qinghai province and Tibet and has been used to make tonics and traditional medicines for wealthy Chinese for centuries.
“People tend to spend less on luxury food because of fears of an economic recession,” said Jin, 42. “Sales have slumped 50 percent from the same time two years ago.”