Hairy crabs are a luxury item, and imported into Hong Kong from mainland China, where they serve as a signature dish of Shanghainese cuisine. They are named after the hair-like growths sprouting from their claws. The best season for hairy crabs are the ninth and tenth months of the lunar calendar, which falls around October and November. But this time around, vendors are having a tough time selling their stock.
Some hairy crab lovers, however, say they are not buying crabs because of worsening quality. "Nowadays demand for hairy crabs has risen a lot. Everyone is farming crabs in China. The quality and the taste is not the same."
The crabs are not the only culinary casualty. From the city's Whampoa Club to makers of exotic Chinese herbal tonics, suppliers are feeling the effects of the slump. 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.
Will there be a similar drop in demand for some of our beleaguered marine life?
Hairy crab sales dip as Hong Kongers tighten their budgets
Leslie Tang Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 08
HONG KONG: The financial downturn is keeping people from Hong Kong from spending money on gourmet food.
One of the businesses seeing a huge drop in sales is hairy crabs, a popular Chinese delicacy. Wholesalers said sales have slumped by as much as 70 per cent.
Wholesaler Kei Kwong Lam said that in 2007, his shop was always packed with people. However, business has dipped by about 40 per cent this year.
It has prompted him to knock off up to a tenth of his prices despite a rise in labour and shipping costs.
He said: "The financial tsunami is really giving me a big headache. It's impacting all businesses. For us in particular, restaurant orders have dropped drastically."
The hairy crabs are imported from the mainland, where they serve as a signature dish of Shanghainese cuisine. They are named after the hair-like growths sprouting from their claws.
Hairy crabs are a luxury item, valued for their rich, yolk-like roe inside. But it seems this year, people believe they are not only a strain on their cholesterol, but their wallets as well.
Other wholesalers in other districts in Hong Kong are doing even worse, reportedly battling a 70 per cent drop in sales.
The best season for hairy crabs are the ninth and tenth months of the lunar calendar, which falls around October and November.
But this time around, it has only left vendors feeling a little bit crabby. - CNA/vm
Downturn hits sales of Hong Kong crab delicacy
Justine Lau, Financial Times 8 Nov 08;
The global financial crisis has hit sales in Hong Kong of the prized hairy crab, an autumn delicacy in the luxury-loving city.
As consumers tightened their purse strings, sales of hairy crabs in Hong Kong dropped by about 40 per cent in October, according to Ki Kwong-nam, owner of Old San Yang, one of the territory's biggest wholesalers and retailers of the seafood.
"This year is very bad. With the financial tsunami, even the wealthiest people are not spending money. No one is eating hairy crabs now," said Mr Ki, who has cut his prices by 10 per cent.
"I have been in Hong Kong for 50 years, and this is one of the worst years I have seen."
Mr Ki said turnover at his stores dropped about 30 per cent last month, with sales to restaurants most affected.
He said many of his customers had become hairy crabs themselves. In Hong Kong, a hairy crab - or tai jap hai in Cantonese - is also an investor who cannot sell his bad assets soon enough and, therefore, is in the same position as a hairy crab displayed with its claws tied up in reeds.
Many local gourmets consider the autumn harvest of hairy crabs - freshwater crabs flown in from the lakes along China's Yangtze river - a high point in Hong Kong's culinary year. The crabs, named after a dense patch of hair on their bodies, are famous for their cholesterol-rich roes and sperm.
The peak of hairy crab season is usually the ninth and tenth months of the Chinese lunar calendar, roughly October and November. Because of its seasonal nature, the price tag for the tastiest hairy crab can reach HK$240 ($31, €24, £20).
But in a sign that even this treat is not immune from the turmoil, restaurants are offering discounts to lure in the customers.
Superstar Seafood Restaurant, which has 12 outlets in Hong Kong, said that while sales had held up, it had cut prices for a hairy crab meal from HK$328 per head to HK$298, with a 10 per cent discount at non-peak hours.
Its rival East Ocean Seafood Restaurant is selling its hairy crab set dinner about 10 per cent cheaper than a year ago, but sales have still dropped by about 3 or 4 per cent.
Hairy crab lovers, however, say they are not buying crabs because of worsening quality. Vincent Lai used to eat hairy crabs every year, and could eat as many as four in one evening.
But he said his passion has faded in the last decade because "the crabs do not taste as good as they did".
"Nowadays demand for hairy crabs has risen a lot. Everyone is farming crabs in China. The quality and the taste is not the same," said Mr Lai. "I am not eager to eat them any more."
Hairy Crabs, Grubs Lose Appeal as Shanghai Diners Tighten Belts
Chua Kong Ho and Judy Chen, Bloomberg 10 Nov 08;
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- China's slowest growth in five years is finally making carpet salesman Edwin Hong pay attention to his doctor's advice: Stay off the hairy crabs.
An autumn delicacy in Shanghainese cuisine, the cholesterol-rich crustaceans can wholesale for as much as $80 a kilogram during their October-November season, or a quarter of the average monthly salary of a new university graduate in China's largest city.
"In times like these, your definition of what is a necessity changes," said Hong, 34, who supplies carpets for hotels and condominiums. "Hairy crabs were a necessity for me in the past, but now they're looking more and more like an extravagance. My doctor will be very happy."
Hong's customers are postponing projects and delaying payments as expansion in the world's fourth-largest economy fell to 9 percent in the third quarter, the slowest in five years. The 69 percent slump in the CSI 300 stocks index this year has wiped out $2.8 trillion in market value from the Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses.
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.
The crabs are not the only culinary casualty. From the city's Whampoa Club to makers of exotic Chinese herbal tonics, suppliers are feeling the effects of the slump.
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."
Benny Shi, a sales manager at Sunrise Logistics (Shanghai) Ltd., a distributor of electronic parts, said his monthly allowance for meals with clients has been cut by 60 percent to 2,000 yuan.
"The chilly winter of China's economy has just started," said Shi, 33. "We are no longer able to take clients to high- end restaurants and order luxury food. The company's U.S. headquarters is firing people. We don't know when the lay-off wave will hit China."
The Whampoa Club, in a restored historic building overlooking Shanghai's Bund, has had fewer patrons since the financial crisis escalated this year, said Chef and Chief Proprietor Jereme Leung. He expects companies to further reduce entertainment and meal expenses to cut costs.
"Everybody is impacted by the economic crisis," said Leung, 37, whose menu at the 200-seat Shanghainese restaurant includes hot sour lobster broth and Chinese ginseng seared cod, and where the average bill is about 600 yuan per person. "It's going to take a while before people regain their confidence."
At Yangcheng Lake, Wu Yidan, 32, was part of a group of 14 diners who ran a gauntlet of restaurant touts in the half-empty parking lot in front of the stretch of waterfront eateries. A year ago he would have had trouble finding a parking space here, he said.
Wu, a broker with Shanghai-based Fortune Securities Co., and his friends went to Xieyoufang Restaurant to dine on hairy crabs at 85 yuan apiece. Asked how much the delicacies cost a year ago, he replied: "I honestly don't remember; nobody cared about prices last year."