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Ghost Street celebrates a favorite dish

By Ye Jun | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-23 07:54

Ghost Street celebrates a favorite dish

Xuyi crayfish is famous for its quality, with tight texture, thin shells and clean belly.

About 900 kilometers away from Xuyi, in Beijing, restaurant entrepreneur Hua Lei is preparing to hold a crayfish festival from June 21 to 23.

As the founder of Beijing Hua's Restaurant, which has eight outlets, Hua recently visited Xuyi for the fifth time, to find out more about the farms and to update his preparation methods.

"Xuyi's crayfish has a tight texture, thin shells and a clean belly," he says. "It is easy to shell, and hygienic."

Hua owes a large part of his success in Beijing to the crayfish. Commonly known as xiaolongxia, or "little lobster", crayfish was instrumental in making Beijing's Guijie food street popular more than 10 years ago.

With his initial restaurant located on Guijie or Ghost Street, Hua earned his first bucket of gold from the specialty. Even now, his restaurant is remembered by many Beijingers for crayfish.

In 2003, Hua sponsored the first crayfish festival on Guijie, right after the SARS epidemic. After six months of mostly staying indoors, people found the spicy, tongue-numbing crayfish a good way to chase away the blues.

It was so popular that tons of crayfish were consumed on the 1-km-long food street daily.

"At its peak, I sold crayfish at 2.50 yuan (40 cents) each. It was normal to sell two tons a day," says Hua.

Crayfish became a specialty for the whole food street, and Hua admits he was not paying enough attention to the small crustacean. After the third year, Hua changed focus to other dishes.

Hua's business is facing a drop of about 20 percent, after recent official curb on spending with public funds. There is also the pressure of rising costs.

"In retrospective, I know I owe much to the crayfish, and the most popular dish at the restaurant is still crayfish," he says.

That made him decide to revive the crayfish festival at his restaurant. But because everyone on Ghost Street offers crayfish now, Hua's secret weapon will be Xuyi crayfish with 13 spices, with additional variation.

Hua is so confident about the allure of crayfish that he intends to open restaurants that specialize in the dish, saying he is totally confident that it will become popular again.

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