shanghai postcard #16: xiaolongxia

Xiaolongxia are Chinese crayfish. Last week, I passed a group of workers conducting "proof of life" checks on recently delivered boxed on xiaolongxia.

In the summer months, as the weather gets hot and steamy outside, locals gather in tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants to devour gigantic piles of the steaming crustaceans.

The dining experience is nothing fancy. You sit on rickety plastic stools around battered card tables covered in disposable plastic sheets, drink cold beer out of plastic cups so thin that you're in constant danger of spilling been everywhere by squeezing too hard, and you'll receive comically over-sized clear plastic gloves to protect your hands.

The crayfish come to the table on a single plate in one humungous pile, smothered in spicy sauce. Most places offer at least three flavors, including la (spicy like hot peppers), ma (made with numbing Sichuan pepper), and a yellow sauce (no idea what's in that one). 

Many locals can dismember their crayfish with chopsticks - a serious feat of dexterity. For the rest, It's a free-for-all of legs, shells, and antennae, with occasional nuggets of sweet and spicy meat.