In Chinese culture, it is important to eat the right food in the right season, and there is no better time to enjoy the delicacy of crab than when the blossom arrives in late autumn. Eating crab is one of the best ways to sample the art of Chinese cuisine.
One of the finest varieties – Dazha Hairy Crab –is found only in Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the cradle of China’s crab culture. To fully appreciate this fine crustacean, skillful craftsmen in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) invented the famous xiebajian (蟹八件 ) – eight tools for eating crab.
The eight pieces included in the set are jian剪(scissors), dun镦 (tiny table), chui锤 (hammer), fu斧 (axe), gua刮(scraper), cha叉(fork), shi匙(spoon) and nie镊(tweezers), with each designed for specific parts of the crab.
To start, cut off the two pincers and eight claws with the scissors. Then place the rest of the crab on the tiny table and hammer all around the carapace (the main shell). Use the axe to cut off the apron (the abdomen on the underside) and open the creature from there, starting from the shell and then moving to the body. The scraper is used to remove the crab’s triangular stomach and then you can eat the spawn next to it using the spoon. You’re now done with this part of the crab.
To eat the main part of the body, use the scraper to remove the hexagon-shaped heart. Take out the spawn and cream with the spoon and eat with a vinegar and shredded ginger sauce. Alternatively you can pour the sauce directly onto the crab. You can now use your hands to break the body into two halves and eat the white meat inside with the fork.
By now, the meat inside the pincers and claws will have cooled enough to have separated from the shell. Use the tweezers to find the hard-to-reach meat without getting your hands greasy.
If you’re good enough with the tools, it is said that you should be able to put the remaining pieces back together to form the crab’s original shape. You can see from this video how the whole process looks.
Using the tools is certainly a skill, as well as a show of status for well-mannered people in the past. But although the tools were traditionally made of bronze and silver (only affordable for rich families) these expensive metals have now been replaced by stainless products that anyone can buy. You can take a look at some of the options on Taobao.
And don’t forget to complete this delicate dining experience with a cup of hot ginner tea (warm nature) after eating, as crab is considered to have a very cold nature in traditional Chinese medicine which may cause diarrhea from overeating. It is also traditional to drink yellow rice wine (warm nature) with crab to bring a balance.