If you’re living in China at the moment, have you tried out crayfish yet?
Over the past few years, China has found itself in the grip - or should that be the claws - of a new food fad: crayfish.
Thirty years ago, crayfish were little more than a nuisance for the rice farmers of Eastern and central China, but the invasive species has become big business for one city. Crayfish restaurants and crayfish farms are booming.
Days ago, a shipment of 100,000 whole pieces of crayfish set on its way from China to Russia, as the world’s largest nation prepares to welcome scores of football fans looking for some footballing action at the 2018 World Cup.
China's appetite for the freshwater crustacean has been insatiable, with crayfish being the most popular dish in the country last year, according to a report by the China Cuisine Association (CCA). But the world, as well, seems to be salivating over the small lobsters – and China is ready to satisfy their cravings.
The world's largest crayfish producer exports great amounts of the lobster relative to Europe and the US as pre-cooked food products. And the recipe for success has been adapting to a global palate. "The crayfishes have already been processed and cooked in China. Customers can heat them for five minutes and eat them," said Cai Xin, general manager of China National Agricultural Development Group Co. Ltd (CNADG), the company behind the shipment to Russia.
Chinese people are crazy for crayfish. Sales revenue of the red crustaceans last year exceeded 3.9 trillion yuan (607 billion US dollars) in 2017, according to the CCA. Late night snacks are quite common in China, and crayfish fits the bill – it's easy to make, goes well with beer and can be served at any roadside eatery. Crayfish is a savory snack as well as a nice dinner. For around 15 US dollars per person, you can enjoy it with a couple of friends in a restaurant, or just pick up your phone and ask for some takeaway to gobble through while watching South Korean soap operas.
“Crayfish is a kind of food that once you eat it, you'll definitely get addicted. So of course the consumption of it keeps growing,” said Lin Geng, a commentator for a news portal operated by Economic Daily. From the perspective of restauranteurs, high profits, relatively low startup costs and standardized cooking all make crayfish a good choice for starting a business. Profits can reportedly reach as high as 80 percent while people just need a couple of thousand dollars to start a restaurant – much lower than starting many other businesses.
There’s a new job booming too: shelling crayfish for over 10k RMB salary a month is quite tempting.
Not only the Chinese people are crazy about it, many other countries have become obsessed with crayfish, adding to recipes with different influences. Instead of braising with hot spice, the recipe also has been adapting to a global palate.