The typhoon shelters of Aberdeen, Lei Yue Mun, and particularly Causeway Bay were alive with whole communities as far back as the late 1800s. Families living, working, and playing in their sampans and fishing vessels in the shelters were known as “boat people,” and while many made a humble living from fishing, they had over the years developed a rich culture separate from land dwellers. Boat people had their own customs and rituals, their own floating schools, and of course, their own floating restaurants.
Attracting crowds of diners to feast on fresh caught seafood, the restaurants were often nothing more than several small sampans tied together, but they had the sparkling city skyline as a backdrop and floating musicians would paddle by and sell poignant tunes. Under the continuous roar of stove fires, the night would be punctuated by singing, laughter, and groans of culinary satisfaction. It was from this jubilant dining subculture that the spicy crab emerged.
Flash fried or stir-fried with plenty of spices, the crab is infused with scallions, chilies, garlic and fermented bean sauce. its an exciting, pungent, addictive dish that showcases the best of boat culture: incredibly fresh seafood and a hedonistic attitude towards heaping chilies and garlic onto a dish. Those boat cooks were intent on setting tastebuds on fire.
Today, the boat communities have all but disappeared as land reclamation shrinks the size of the harbor, and poor sanitation threatens the wellbeing of families living on crowded boats. Many of the restaurants have moved on land and made the fried crab a signature dish with great success.
Some of the most famous purveyors of typhoon shelter style fried crab includes Hee Kee in Wanchai, a regular haunt for local celebrities and foodies. But we love Under the Bridge Spicy Crab for its unbeatable freshness and affordable prices. Here, the garlic is fried to a deep golden brown, inspiring the Cantonese name that means “golden sand crab.” A generous mound of the stuff is shovelled on top of the juicy crab and many diners love to eat the fried garlic on its own as a beer snack.
Where to eat typhoon shelter spicy crab:
Hee Kee Fried Crab Expert
The original spicy crab expert, Hee Kee is now a giant in its field, expanding beyond Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland. The crab here is certainly famous, but so are the mantis prawns and fried tofu. The restaurant also has its own range of condiments for fans to take home.
Where: Shop 1-4, 379-389 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, Tel: +852 2893 7565, and other locations, check their website for details: www.heekee.com.hk
Under Bridge Spicy Crab
This decades-old restaurant has become the go-to place for typhoon shelter spicy crab. Reliably fresh and affordable, this is a great place to bring large hungry groups. Diners can request the level of spiciness for their dishes.
Where: Shop 1-2, G/F, 414-424 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay, +852 2573 7698
Hing Kee Restaurant
A great place to try both the “golden sand” crab — which comes with the classic fried minced garlic heaped over the crab — as well as the black bean sauce crab. The steamed razor clams and soup noodles are also highly popular.
Where: 1/F, Po Wah Commercial Bldg, 180 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2722 0022.