One in eight residents in Xuyi county, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, works in the crayfish industry, and the signs are visible everywhere.


Chinese diners hungry for fresh seafood and eager for an unconventional dining experience are gobbling up crayfish, spurring an economic bonanza for once-impoverished rural counties, where farmers have developed new cultivation techniques to satisfy demand.


Yang Weiwei, general manager of Xuyi Power Faction Ecological Agriculture Development, one of the largest producers and distributors in Xuyi, takes pains to desCRIbe why Jiangsu crayfish are superior to those from rival provinces such as Hubei, Jiangxi and Anhui.


“Hubei craws have big heads and small tails, so the edible part is small. Anhui craws are the lowest quality of all. Their cheeks are black, which means they’re not clean,” Mr Yang says over a dinner of crayfish and baijiu, the clear Chinese spirit. “Jiangxi mostly has green craws. Their shells are soft, so they’re not suitable for shipping. The death rate is high.”


Production of crayfish more than tripled in China from 2007 to 850,000 tonnes last year, according to a report on the industry commissioned by the ministry of agriculture.


As Chinese policymakers seek to promote domestic consumption in order to reduce the economy’s reliance on fixed-asset investment and exports, the growth of industries such as crayfish is a welcome development.


Affluent urbanites enjoy the ritual of donning plastic gloves to peel and eat the CRItters, which are typically slathered in a spicy sauce. Some note that the sauce-drenched gloves prevent fellow diners from checking their mobile phones during a group meal, encouraging social interaction. The restaurants typically stay open late at night, the aroma drawing in revellers.


A breakthrough for China’s crayfish came in the late 1990s, when connoisseurs developed ways to add flavour. Previously, they were mostly boiled in salt water, leading to a bland flavour.


Mr Yang, whose parent company also produces seasonings, claims that Xuyi is home to the original “13 flavours” recipe, which is now widely used to create the classic reddish broth. Despite the name, the sauce is made from 32 herbs and spices.


Another boon for the industry came around the same time, when Liu Zhuquan, a village official in Hubei province responsible for agricultural development, pioneered a new technique for cultivating crayfish. Mr Liu realised that rice paddies, with thick grass, plentiful water, and reliable drainage, were an ideal environment for crayfish.


“At that time, the village was in bad shape. Grain prices were low, and a lot of fields were left fallow because farmers couldn’t even cover their costs,” he said. “I had a feeling like I wanted to help farmers bust out of their rut.”


The industry is ideal for regions that had missed out on China’s economic boom, which was based on manufacturing, construction and heavy industry.


Xuyi county’s Hongze Lake is one of the largest in China but is mostly free from the industrial pollution that plagues some other Chinese water systems. The animal’s naturally short lifespan — a brood can mature from eggs to full-grown in two months — means there is little need for hormones to promote growth.


When it is time to harvest, farmers send bubbles through the water to engorge their stomachs with gas, then force them to drink water. The crayfish vomit, leaving their stomachs clean and white.


The industry has apparently been good to Xuyi. Mr Yang drives an Audi, and similar vehicles dot the parking lot at the flagship restaurant owned by Sizhou City Agricultural Development, his parent company.

这个行业显然利于盱眙的发展。杨维伟驾驶着一辆奥迪,他的母公司盱眙泗州城农业发展(Sizhou City Agricultural Development)旗下旗舰餐厅的停车场里也停满了奥迪。

The city is burgeoning with new construction, and the region’s gross domestic product has grown by a yearly average of 15.1 per cent in nominal terms from 2011 to 2016, compared with the national average of 10.4 per cent.


In a sign of its ambition, Sizhou City Agricultural has even invested in a film, My Kitchen Lover

泗州城农业发展甚至投资了一部电影,《泡菜爱上小龙虾》(My Kitchen Lover ),以促进该行业发展,显示了该公司的抱负。本片计划于今年8月在全国影院上映。“这部影片讲的是韩国辣白菜爱上了中国小龙虾。我们请到了几位功夫巨星出演。”

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