Chinese mitten crabs, or hairy crabs, are known for the unusual furry growth on their pincers and legs but they are most sought-after for their cream-flavoured roe.
Around this time, between autumn and winter (from September until December), these crabs make their appearance in Suzhou’s Lake Tai and Lake Yangcheng.
The small-sized crabs from these locations near Shanghai are “branded” with the name of the Chinese financial city. A comparison would be the ikan patin from Temerloh, Pahang and the durians from Balik Pulau, Penang.
For foodies in Malaysia, this is the time when they take out their wallets and gout pills to fight for these crabs at Chinese restaurants around the world.
But a report in Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post has made me sit up. I know of all those fake items in street stalls in Beijing but now crabs from other lakes have been passed off as genuine Yangcheng crabs – defined as those raised in the lake for at least six months. Now, that’s really crap!
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) also reported that “most of the crustaceans sold as Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs on the mainland are actually grown in other waters.
“Some are known as ‘bathing crabs’ because they spend a short time – several hours to a couple of weeks – before being passed off as the genuine article.”
Malaysians are paying between RM100 and RM300 for a single crab and unless you are an expert, which this writer isn’t, many would not realise they have been conned. It’s like some wine buyers who think the more pricey their bottles, the better the wine.
A quick research found that reports of fake hairy crabs are nothing new. There have been reports of crackdowns by the Chinese crab industry and the authorities who obviously cannot be too pleased about such matters.
One may think that this is quite a silly thing to worry about but this is really a huge industry, running into millions of ringgit, and involves brands and reputation. Intellectual property, as the lawyers would say.
The Chinese, who have been known to be experts at copying mechanical and electrical items, are now suddenly facing the same problem. Their branded hairy crabs, running up to over 100,000 tonnes each year, are being copied!
Farmers from Yangcheng Lake are reminding consumers that their crabs are fresher than the impostors, without the need to add condiments when eating them.
But there are also health issues here. The SCMP reported that “while the genuine article is celebrated for its golden carapace, pure white belly shell and glistening roe, fakes are now being treated with ‘crab washing powder’ to make their bellies turn white.”
Now that’s pretty frightening especially after what we have read about the excessive use of recycled cooking oil and other horrible chemicals in Chinese-made food products.
There have been suggestions that the real Yangcheng crabs should be tagged with a plastic ring attached to one of its claws bearing a unique 12-digit code but it has been reported that the campaign has been proven to be useless. That’s not a surprise.
That’s a lesson that Malaysian durian exporters must remember. Most durian buyers in Chinatown are able to tell the difference between Malaysian and Thai durians.
Those from Hong Kong who joined organised durian tours can even rattle off the various durian names but these are the passionate ones who demand the best.
Brands and marketing techniques are important tools. That includes durians and well, crabs, too. Probably we also have to differentiate between genuine and fake politicians who all claim to fight for our interests.