Long live the taste of spicy crayfish thanks to urbanization wave
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.