Crab supply a tad hairy

Warmer weather in China and tighter import restrictions have caused a dip in the supply of hairy crab, leading restaurants to rethink their menu promotions

Fans of the seasonal crustacean laden with creamy roe might find themselves in a hairy situation this year.

Chefs say there has been a drop in the supply of the prized hairy crab, likely because of the warmer weather in China as well as tighter restrictions on imports.

This is similar to the season last year - which generally starts in September and peaks in mid-October and November - where the delayed cold season caused supply to drop by 20 per cent.

Hairy crabs usually come from China, in particular from Yangcheng Lake in Jiangsu province.

Last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) received imports of hairy crab from China, Hong Kong, Japan and the Netherlands. Imports spiked in 2015 to 53 tonnes and numbers almost halved to 27 tonnes last year.

From January to last month, only three tonnes of hairy crabs from Hong Kong and Japan were imported into Singapore, says the AVA, noting that the peak of the season has not been reached yet.

Pan Pacific Singapore's Hai Tien Lo restaurant and Min Jiang at Goodwood Park Hotel and Min Jiang at One-North are all getting hairy crabs from the Netherlands.

Goodwood Park Hotel's marketing communications manager Shirleen Lu says: "Our suppliers informed us in the first week of October that we would not be able to obtain hairy crabs from our usual source in China."

The substitutes from the Netherlands arrived in time for Min Jiang's promotions, which run until Nov 19.

Hai Tien Lo receives a fresh supply of Dutch hairy crabs twice a week for its a la carte menu and six-course set menu ($168++ a diner, minimum of two diners).

Some restaurants have decided not to serve the crabs. One of them is Li Bai at Sheraton Towers.

Its executive Chinese chef Chung Yiu Ming says: "There is stiff competition over the shrinking supply this year, along with increased prices and uncertainties. As the regular supplier is unable to ascertain the premium supply of hairy crabs, Li Bai has decided to put a halt to the imports from China.

"Due to the limited supply, some restaurants are importing hairy crabs from other countries such as the Netherlands and Japan. However, we are not considering importing from these sources as we do not want the taste and quality to differ from what our regular patrons are accustomed to."

Executive chef Liu Ching Hai, 50, of the one-Michelin-starred Summer Palace at The Regent Singapore, also heard of chefs getting their supplies from Japan and Taiwan.

But while he was able to secure his supply three months in advance, the restaurant is scaling down the menu.

He says: "We have seen a slight decrease in the demand for hairy crabs, which is one of the reasons we have scaled down the menu to just six main items. We had eight the previous year. We've also tried to keep the dishes simpler as we noticed that guests really just prefer to dine on the original hairy crabs as they are."

Summer Palace's hairy crab promotion runs from Nov 18 to 28.

Similarly, it is business as usual at other restaurants, including Xin Cuisine Chinese Restaurant at Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium and selected restaurants under the TungLok Group.

Ms Carolyn Tan, senior vice-president for the TungLok Group, says: "We have not had any issues with our hairy crab supplies. We get our crabs from local importers and they are all AVA-approved."

Prices of the crab has maintained at $58 each (200 to 225g). Besides serving the whole crab, some dishes made with the roe and meat include braised lobster and broccoli with hairy crab meat and roe ($38++) from TungLok Seafood at Orchard Central, and fried rice with crab meat and roe from set menus at TungLok XiHe Peking Duck at Orchard Central and The Grandstand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Crab supply a tad hairy'. Print Edition | Subscribe