In general the Cantonese food in Hong Kong is mild. It is fresh and astonishingly good, for sure, but after a while we started to crave a spicy food break. Earlier in our stay, we had the amazing Szechuan-style crab at Chilli Fagara. Chili Fagara rekindled our love for chili crab and left us craving more. Chili crab is one of those dishes that we’ve had many times. It is prepared in a multitude of ways and, at the minimum, is always very good. Though we love Chili Fagara’s crab, we’d lose the sense of food exploration if we returned to the restaurant during our Hong Kong visit. I imagine that it was inevitable that we’d start searching down other chili crab options in Hong Kong.
Our second encounter with the hot-spiced crab occurred in Kowloon’s Temple Street Night Market. This large crowded nighttime bazaar offers every cheap household and clothing item that you could possibly imagine all packed in tight in the middle of Temple Street. Alongside the stall filled avenue, in the fronts of the roadside buildings, are many intriguing restaurants. At one particular intersection all of the restaurants feature spicy crab. We’ve taken to calling this particular place the Spicy Crab Corner. We walked past the crossroads of fiery crustaceans at first but the draw of the spiced crab was too strong. Before long we were lured back and settled on one of the larger and busier places, Temple Spice Crabs at 210 Temple Street.
An attractive woman in a tight-fitting San Miguel Beer outfit quickly greeted us at our table. She asked if we would like a San Miguel Beer. Becky was set on trying another beer but she seemed have missed an important point; the San Miguel Beer lady was wearing white high-heeled boots.
“Of course we will have a San Miguel Beer,” I intervened before Becky could go further.
There really was no choice, was there?
When the crab reached our table it was indeed excellent. This is the type of dish where the piles of spices on the serving plate outweigh the claws and body parts. Your hands become coated with spices as you dig out the crab. When you pick the meat out of the shells, the spice is transferred to the crabmeat and then on to your mouth.
For sure, eating the spicy crabs is a messy operation. Most of the restaurants that we visited in Hong Kong do not provide napkins. Temple Spice Crabs made a concession to the mess; a communal roll of toilet paper was placed on each shared table. You can clean your paws off with TP after dredging through the spice pile. Perhaps this defines the expression “better than nothing.”
Our plate came with two smallish crabs hiding amongst the mass of spices. The crabs themselves are mild in flavor. We’d love to have the spice crab dish made with our local sweeter and more flavorful Dungeness Crab, but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it? In any event, the dish is, in the end, all about the red-hot garlicky heap of chili spices.
After discovering Spicy Crab Corner, we searched the Internet for clues of more spiced crab in Hong Kong. The hunt was on. Google pointed us to Under Bridge Spicy Crab. Under Bridge is located at 429 Lockhart Road. The location is, pretty much, “under the bridge” or at least under the viaduct at the corner of Canal Road West.
We arrived at the restaurant after visiting Hong Kong’s famous Happy Valley Racecourse. Most people would visit the horse track on a race day; we would have too if we read the race calendar properly. But at least this mistake meant we’d eat dinner at 10 pm rather than at midnight.
Under Bridge Spicy Crab is not just in one restaurant. Multiple storefronts on Lockhart have the identical name and identical copies of Tony Bourdain’s picture pasted on the front. I couldn’t read the Chinese, but I gather he must have eaten there. I’d guess he liked it too. Other restaurants nearby also offer crab. This is Hong Kong’s Spicy Crab Ghetto.
When we entered the restaurant and ordered, we noticed one obvious upgrade over our Spicy Crab Corner dining experience. Kleenex replaced the toilet paper on the table. Unfortunately though, the San Miguel Beer girl did not make it across Victoria Harbor to this Hong Kong Island restaurant. I guess you can’t have everything.
After we ordered our waiter went out to the street and removed a crab from a Styrofoam cooler. Back inside, he presented the crab to us with its claws carefully restrained by a tied red cloth. Was this one good?
Of course it was. And soon enough the crab came back from the kitchen in another pile of hot and garlicky spices. This example of the dish was very similar to the Temple Spice Crabs offering.
Perhaps we liked the Spicy Crab Corner crustaceans slightly better. Maybe the smaller crabs allowed for better spice transfer from hand to the meat? In any event, they were close in flavor. Temple Spice Crab was cheaper and had the ever-important San Miguel Beer girl and her white high-heeled boots. Spicy Crab Corner would likely be our first choice, of the two, for a return down-market chili crab expedition.
One factor does favor Under Bridge Spicy Crab. We ordered the “greens” off the menu. The dish came with large chunks of some sort of marinated pork in between one of the many variations of what most Westerners call Chinese Broccoli. This dish was ridiculously good. In fact, with all the meat, it was pretty much a complete meal. Well, it would be a complete meal if you had a bowl of something we never once saw served in Hong Kong, steamed white rice. (Our order of white rice was simply ignored at Under Bridge Spicy Crab.)
We’re certainly not qualified to pick the best spicy crab in Hong Kong. We will volunteer to be judges, though. We love this dish. In our minimally informed opinion, the best and most refined chili crab version was at the one Michelin-starred Chilli Fagara. The only downside of the dish at Chilli Fagara is the price. This was the most expensive of the three examples we tried. So, for sure, we’d head to the toilet paper topped tables at the Spicy Crab Corner in the Temple Street Night Market when we were looking to go down scale. Or maybe it’s just that we’d just go there for the San Miguel Beer and all that it brings. Sometimes it is never easy to tell our true motivations.