Born in America, perfected in China, best in summer. Wander any night market in China right now and you’re going to see piles of crayfish. Because they are farm raised, they are available year-round but peak season for what might be China’s unofficial national dish is… right now. Shanghai loves its crayfish and although the Shouning Lu crayfish street mecca is no more, there are still hundreds of places to eat the little mudbugs in the city. Here are five really good ones.
Browse the full directory of crayfish restaurants in Shanghai here.
Er Zi Shao (Anyuan Lu)
Er Zi Shao is just next to another yexiao place that also has crayfish, so pay attention to the signage. And the party zone vibe! The specialty here is the crayfish BBQ’ed with cheese. Yes! That being said, their xiang la crayfish (fragrant and spicy) and the salt and pepper variety are also worth a try. The best way (controversial opinion), is to just eat the salt and pepper variety whole, no fussing or peeling involved. The frying leaves the shells very brittle and the experience is like eating extra-crispy potato chips. Plus the flavor is better. Also order the sweet osmanthus-flavored rice wine! Excellent accompaniment.
A Mu Crayfish (Benxi Lu)
Series of chain shops in Yangpu District, with a few other locations in outlying parts of Shanghai. Distinctly more suburban feel, like a 3rd-tier Hubei hometown: crayfish in a big tank outside the restaurant, weighed in front of you and sent inside for processing. Their specialty is the 13-spice crayfish, with soy sauce, sugar and ginger the most dominant flavors in there. It's a bit of a trip out but if you're sick of Instagram focused platters and lines around the block, check it out.
Hu Xiao Pang (Huaihai Zhong Lu)
Similar to FOMO, this place is popular with a lot of young couples, but also small groups of locals – Shanghainese is spoken all around. Not exactly a party atmosphere on the early side but they are open real late and there is a KTV downstairs. It’s probably more fun after midnight. But we're here for crayfish! Their specialty is beer-boiled crayfish and headless crayfish (again!). Hu Xiao Pang adds a heaping dose of ma to their headless crayfish. Beer boiled crayfish, meanwhile, is delicious. Very savory, slightly spicy, slightly sweet and with a touch of beer flavor. The flavor gets deep into the meat of the crayfish, and the heads and juices are just delicious to suck out. Great dish.
FOMO Crayfish (Jiaozhou Lu)
Not nearly as much of a party atmosphere as Hong Kui, seems mostly for tourists or locals who just finished a day of shopping on Nanjing Xi Lu. Their speciality is stir-fried with garlic and niangao, and headless crayfish. There must be at least five entire heads of minced garlic in that oily pot of crayfish, perhaps more! The flavor permeates fantastically into the crayfish meat. Oily, slightly spicy, very savory, and aggressively garlicky. The niangao in the pot are also ideally chewy. Watch your breath afterward.
Hong Kui Jia (Changshou Lu)
Hong Kui Jia has all the classics, from 13-spice to ma la, but they are especially well known for their offbeat bing zhen and salty egg yolk preparations. The bing zhen crayfish are boiled with various aromatics, have a sweet and savory sauce poured over them, and then are refrigerated and served cold. Hong Kui Jia dials up the drama by serving them over a bed of dry ice, which causes tremendous clouds of fog to come billowing up around the dish. True to Shanghai form, the dish is very light and very sweet. Fun for the gimmick, but stick to the standard flavors. Visit this one on Changshou Lu, rather than the most popular one on People's Square, where there's a multi-hour wait during high season.