Get them now while they're still in season.
Prized for their rich—and plentiful—vibrant orange roe, hairy crabs are a delicacy in many Asian countries. Shanghai in particular is known for its hairy crabs, the best of which come from Yangcheng Lake, in Jiangsu, a neighboring province to the bustling city. During the bristly crustacean's brief season, which lasts only from late October to early December, the streets fill with pop-up stalls and entrepreneurial vendors selling the fur-clawed creatures, the most expensive of which can go for up to $100 per kilogram. For travelers headed to Shanghai during this brief window, here's where to eat the best hairy crab in and around the city:
Fairmont Yangcheng Lake
Due to the market previously being swamped with "fake" Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs, true crabs from this freshwater lake now come with identification numbers. However, the best way to guarantee authenticity is to visit the lake in person. At the hotel's Yi Feng Court, try the braised crab with chicken in a clay pot and stay for the night to get away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
Chenghuang Miao Tese Xiaochi
There are many traditional ways to cook hairy crab, including adding the yolk-like roe and meat to Shanghai's famous soup dumplings (xiaolongbao). Steamers of hairy crab soup dumplings (xiefen xiaolongbao) can be found at many street-side dumpling joints, but this chain is highly recommended.
This restaurant is serving hairy crab from Tai Lake, just upriver from Yangcheng Lake. Their hairy crab prix fixe menu offers a range of traditional recipes, including hairy crab soup dumplings and double-boiled chicken soup with crab roe. The showstopper, however, is the steamed whole hairy crab served with sweetened vinegar and fresh ginger dipping sauce alongside expert crab-picking utensils.
This street market comes alive at night and is famous for its many crayfish restaurants. When hairy crab season is at its peak, tanks along the road are also filled to the brim with crabs. Restaurants will stir-fry them in a variety of ways, including with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, or offer dishes of plain steamed crabs for those who prefer the delicacy unadulterated. Although no premium Yangcheng Lake specimen would be seen dead here, the street is a good spot to sample cut-price hairy crab.
The Peninsula Shanghai
Offering possibly the most extravagant and extensive selection of hairy crab dishes in the city, each of this hotel's three restaurants has Chinese- or Western-style hairy crab lunch and dinner menus. Try the chicken roulade with hairy crab stuffing at Sir Elly's or the king prawn with shredded black truffle in hairy crab sauce at Yi Long Court. The traditional steamed version is also available.