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Under the sea, on the table

By Pauline D. Loh and Cheng Sijia | Shanghai Star | Updated: 2014-10-12 10:28


Under the sea, on the table

Brown or bread crab [Photo by Gao Erqiang/Shanghai Star]

Even so, Tongchuan’s fame for selling the freshest and best survives. In autumn especially, the cooler weather results in excellent catches, and the crabs are unusually fat and succulent. Yangchenghu Lake, the tradition breeding ground for the Chinese mitten or hairy crab, is having a bumper harvest and the crabs are maturing faster this year and are also bigger.

Zhang Ji crab shop specializes in selling hairy crabs. According to the owner Zhang Yunlong, he contracted 3,000 acres of Yangchenghu Lake to breed hairy crabs. All his crabs go through three official verifications before hitting the market. Apart from the hairy crabs of the season, there is also an abundance of choice of other varieties — from the large, deep green Zhejiang Sanmen mud crabs with their huge pincers, to imported Dungeness crabs from the American west coast, brown or bread crab and Australian lobster.

You may even get to witness the arrival of a Styrofoam container full of live baby octopus being emptied into their glass container on the floor. It is a spectacular sight.

A visit to Tongchuan Road is not an excursion to the aquarium. This is a working market and the floors are muddy and wet and smelling faintly of fish entrails. It will also be wise to remember the old adage: Do not make friends with your food. The baby octopus may look cute crawling about their tanks, but they are ultimately food. There are more than 400 stands and shop fronts jostling for space along the stretch of road.

That’s part of the charm, too, and most shoppers stroll down the length of the stretch before doubling back to patronize the vendor of their choice. The love of seafood is a great common denominator, and no one is really impressed by the parade of designer bags and shoes that often stop before the seafood stalls.

If anything, your branded stuff may actually be a disadvantage in the bargaining process.

Tongchuan is also a good place to broaden your horizons and learn more about the curious varieties of seafood not often seen on the common dinner table. The shop owners are friendly enough and will patiently answer your questions of the products, whether you buy them or not.

Once you have chosen your catch, you can take them around the corner to the rows of seafood restaurants. They will cook it for a small fee, and you can supplement your seafood meal with orders of beer or other side dishes. It is a convenient arrangement for those who are not so handy in the kitchen.

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