Sunday, 26 June 2011

Under Bridge Spicy Crab 橋底辣蟹

It's often been said that the Cantonese can't handle spicy food, but in my opinion that's a bit of a generalisation. Whilst they might not like it as hot as their brethren in Hunan or Sichuan, the Cantonese do enjoy a bit of heat. After all, they did invent the famous XO sauce, amongst other chilli oils and sauces. And they're also responsible for chiu-yim (椒鹽) style dishes, where deep-fried treats like squid are tossed in a chilli-salt mix.

Still not convinced? Then I can only assume that you've never come across typhoon shelter crab (避風塘炒蟹). A single taste of this dish will swiftly disabuse you of the notion that the Cantonese are members of the Korma Tendency. I'm not exactly sure of the origins of this dish, but legend has it that it was invented by the 'boat dwellers' (水上人家) that lived in and around Hong Kong's typhoon shelters. In this respect, typhoon shelter crab can be considered Hong Kong's 'national' dish.

Whilst this dish is found on the menus of many mainstream Cantonese restaurants, it remains best served by specialist joints. Perhaps the most famous of these is Under Bridge Spicy Crab (橋底辣蟹). This Wan Chai restaurant is an institution and their version of this dish sees deep-fried crab tossed in their legendary chilli-mix. This dry crispy mix of garlic, chilli, black beans (豆豉 douci), and spring onions is maddeningly addictive. So much so, I ordered a couple of bowls of congee to put the chilli-mix into. We went for medium spicy, and to be honest any hotter than this can slightly spoil the crab.

The typhoon shelter treatment isn't limited to crab, and we also sampled some typhoon shelter mantis shrimps. These giant beasts are colloquially known in Chinese as 攋尿蝦, which translates as pissing prawns, and have a texture akin to lobster. Again these were very moreish, particularly the tail.

It is very easy to over order, and with hindsight we ordered one, maybe two dishes too many. Other seafood dishes that they do well include clams in black bean sauce and deep-fried silverfish. As you might expect from any Chinese restaurant, the veggies are top notch, in this case some stir-fried flowering chives. A special shout also goes to our waiter, a gravelly voiced Cantonese old boy who looked after us really well.

This restaurant is a unique Hong Kong experience and I heartily recommend it. Thanks also to Tom and Jen for joining me at Under Bridge Spicy Crab and also at The Chairman – great meals made better by great company.

Whilst Under Bridge Spicy Crab is famous, it can be confusing to find the right one to go to, as there are three outlets in close proximity to one another. There are also other spicy crab restaurants in the locale, which further adds to the confusion. Anyway, we went to the flagship restaurant, which is said to be best. I think the address is as below, but if in doubt, it's the only one of the three on Lockhart Road proper.

Under Bridge Spicy Crab 橋底辣蟹
G/F-3/F, Ascot Mansion, 421-425 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
香港 灣仔 駱克道421-425號雅閣大廈地下至三樓
Tel: +852-2893-1289 / +852-2834-6818
Nearest MTR: Causeway Bay 銅鑼灣


  1. Typhoon shelter crab typhoon shelter crab typhoon shelter crab! I absolutely cannot wait until I get to try this.

    They made it on 天天飲食 a few months ago — here it is on YouTube. Any dish that starts by deep-frying a bowlful of chopped garlic is fine by me.

  2. I'm still kinda baffled with myself that after being in Hong Kong for a month we only ate here once. Yes I know, once!!! .....
    Apart form the Singaporean national dish, this is the 2nd best crab dish on the planet.

  3. Absolutely loved crab - HK does a different style of crab cooking to what we get in KL and this is defo on my list if I visit!

  4. Hmmm ... i'm not a crab fan (too much work for too little meat) but this is making my tummy rumble. I've walked passed this before so I'll give crab another shot next time i'm in HK!

    What the prices like?

  5. you're making me miss home-used to come here as a kid!

  6. kake - great video, thanks for sharing. Their version is pretty good, but I'm not quite sure why they served it on a bed of blanched baby pak choi - an unnecessary touch of healthiness in a dish that revels in its own badness! And on a totally non-food related point, just how thick was the chef's Beijing accent? Incidentally, this dish can be found in London - I've seen it on the menu at Phoenix Palace.

    Mzungu - best crab dish in the world? Now that's a debate. I think you're probably right, as imho Singapore chilli crab edges it as No 1. BTW - Singapore's famous No Signboard Seafood restaurant, which specialises in chilli crab, has just opened in HK.

    HF - welcome! Yeah, the HK-style is drier than what you might find in KL.

    Thebao - I'm afraid I can't remember how much it cost! It wasn't cheap and depends on market price and the size of the crab. BTW - if you're not a big crab fan then why not go for the typhoon shelter 'pissing' prawns? It's easier to get to the meat and they're cheaper too.

    Campari & Soda - welcome! This place is great, although I reckon its changed a fair bit since you were little. The branch we visited is spread over three floors - a far cry from the little hole in the wall that I (and no doubt you) remember. That said, the crabs are still fab!

  7. Ooooooh, I've only read of this on blogs and now I really need to get myself to HK to try it! It looks phenomenally good!

    And thanks for the link to that video, Kake! Perhaps I can try making it at home with prawns...

  8. Su-Lin - I hope you have a powerful extraction fan in your kitchen for when you deep fry the garlic! And if making this with prawns, use the largest ones you can find.

  9. It looks really good...making me craving for crabs now....can't wait to read what else have you been eating in HK!

  10. It is interesting that if a guest comes to HK this is one of the two or three meals I insist they have and loads of people (even people who live here) haven't tried it. Madness :)

  11. Tom - interestingly enough, I was introduced to Under Bridge by a visiting Singaporean rather than a local.

  12. I'm a little late posting this comment, but in response to @Thebao's question - when we ate at Under Bridge Spicy Crab in November 2010, we paid 390 HKD for our crab (about 30 quid).