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