Hongkongers nip over to mainland China to save on hairy crabs, with some sellers offering to deliver seasonal delicacy

For 10 yuan more, customers could have the crabs cooked on the spot and served in the supermarket’s dining area.

In Hong Kong, a similar crab costs HK$80 (US$10) at vendor New Sam Yung.

Hairy crabs, also known as the Chinese mitten crabs, are a seasonal delicacy prized for their sweet flesh and creamy roe.

A store selling the seasonal delicacy at the Futian crossing. Salesmen at such stalls say Hongkongers are keen to bring hair crabs back home. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

They are usually in season in October and November, with the best reputed to be those bred in Jiangsu’s Taihu Lake and Yangcheng Lake.

Hong Kong authorities tightened restrictions on imports after finding samples of hairy crabs from the mainland with twice the permitted level of cancer-causing toxins five years ago.

The Hongkongers at the Hema Xiansheng supermarket who spoke to the Post were unconcerned about possible health risks.

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The low prices attracted housewife Shirley Mui, 45, who was visiting Shenzhen for the first time with her husband. They bought four crabs for 218 yuan.

“I’ve never eaten them before in Hong Kong because they’re so expensive,” she said.

At the supermarket checkout, a 70-year-old Hongkonger who only gave his surname, Wong, was packing 40 hairy crabs into cooler bags stuffed with ice.

Visiting Shenzhen with his daughter, he said he paid more than 1,000 yuan for the crabs and was bringing them back to share with family and friends.

The supermarket also lets shoppers select fresh clams, oysters and a variety of other seafood and steaks, which can be cooked and served on the spot.

Hongkongers feast on hairy crabs at Hema Xiansheng supermarket. Residents speaking to the Post there said they were unconcerned about possible health risks. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

By lunchtime, the dining area was packed with people feasting on seafood platters, with middle-aged and elderly Hongkongers making up most of the crowd.

Amanda Yuen, in her 50s, said she was there for the second time in two weeks and was enjoying a meal with two friends. They spent 400 yuan on six hairy crabs and some tiger prawns.

“I paid HK$500 last week for a hairy crab set meal in Hong Kong and it was bad,” she said. “I suspect the crab died before it was cooked. It’s much more worthwhile here. The crabs are alive and we can pick them ourselves.”

She said she had no worries about health risks as the crabs were being sold by a reputable supermarket chain.

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The Post also found temporary hairy crab stalls targeting Hongkongers at the Futian checkpoint and outside the Shenzhen Bay crossing.

The store at Futian put up a sign quoting Hong Kong customs as saying hairy crabs were not prohibited items to carry back across.

“If the crabs are for personal consumption and of a reasonable quantity, both raw or cooked crabs can be brought back to Hong Kong,” it said.

Salesmen at both stalls told the Post that many people were buying crabs to take back to Hong Kong, and that travellers could bring as many as 20 into the city with no issues.

Mainland merchants have also taken to Chinese social media offering delivery services to buyers in Hong Kong.

Travellers arriving at Lo Wu station earlier in the month. Authorities have not specified how many crabs residents can bring in to the city. Photo: Edmond So

An online seller on the popular Xiaohongshu platform told the Post it could deliver up to 20 crabs from Shenzhen to Causeway Bay. The seller said the crabs from Taihu Lake were air-flown daily to Shenzhen, and that a female crab weighing about six taels cost HK$76. Delivery was free of charge to Sheung Shui and Fanling MTR stations, but would cost HK$30 to Causeway Bay.

By comparison, New Sam Yung in Hong Kong was selling a similar crab for HK$280.

According to the Customs and Excise Department, travellers are not allowed to bring items including game meat, eggs and infant formula into Hong Kong. Hairy crabs are not listed.

Responding to queries, the department on Friday said it would refer cases of people bringing in controlled food without an import licence or travellers with a large quantity of high-risk food to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

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It did not specify how many hairy crabs each traveller could bring into Hong Kong.

The department said it cracked 20 cases of smuggled hairy crabs in the first 10 months of this year and seized 79,000 crabs.

Following the crackdowns, the Centre for Food Safety warned the public against consuming hairy crabs from unknown sources and reminded people to buy only from reliable online shops with licences.

In 2018, the centre found three samples of hairy crabs from the mainland with almost twice the accepted levels of dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls, known carcinogens that can also damage the reproductive and immune systems.

These environmental pollutants contaminate soil surfaces and aquatic sediments in streams, rivers and lakes where hairy crabs live.

Since then the centre has required importers of hairy crabs to apply for a permit, and all batches must have a health certificate and documents of origin issued by local authorities.

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