Long live the taste of spicy cray­fish thanks to ur­ban­iza­tion wave

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

At the height of sum­mer, no food seems to be hot­ter than cray­fish. The crus­taceans, also known as “lit­tle lob­sters” in China, and craw­fish, craw­dads, mug­bugs or fresh­wa­ter lob­sters in other parts of the world, have a nick­name in Chi­nese, ma xiao (spicy lit­tle lob­sters) as they are of­ten served in hot and spicy chili sauce.

Ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing on­line group­buy­ing and food de­liv­ery plat­form, China’s cray­fish mar­ket is worth more than $20 bil­lion, ac­count­ing for about 5 per­cent of the over­all Chi­nese food ser­vice mar­ket. And nearly 18,000 restau­rants in China fo­cused on serv­ing cray­fish as of Au­gust 2016, three times the num­ber of KFCs in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports.

Although I have not tasted the pop­u­lar sum­mer dish for a decade, I think I know why it has be­come so pop­u­lar. Like spicy Sichuan cui­sine and hot­pot, ma xiao is rid­ing the ur­ban­iza­tion wave in China.

Be­lieve it or not, I first tasted hot­pot when I was in the mid­dle school, that is, the mid-1980s, even though my home prov­ince, Sichuan, is con­sid­ered the birth­place of hot­pot in China. The rea­son: it was dif­fi­cult to find a hot­pot restau­rant in my home­town, Sichuan’s cap­i­tal city of Chengdu, be­cause spicy hot­pot was still a spe­cialty of Chengdu’s brother city, Chongqing, now a mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

After vis­it­ing Chongqing on a busi­ness trip, my fa­ther would nar­rate his ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing the spicy dish. So one day my mother de­cided to serve “Chongqing hot­pot” at home. Her dish, just meat and veg­eta­bles cooked in boil­ing wa­ter and chili sauce in a pot, how­ever, had lit­tle sim­i­lar­ity with the hot­pot served in restau­rants to­day.

Over the past 20 years, the move­ment of peo­ple across the coun­try has fused the tastes and fla­vors of dif­fer­ent re­gions.

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