Sai Pangxie (Imitated Crab 赛螃蟹)
What is it?
Sai pangxie, which means ‘better than crab,’ is an imperial dish from the Qing Dynasty made largely of eggs and a few slices of ginger. Fancier versions might include dried scallop and fish meat. Others add salted duck egg yolk to imitate the crab roe.
Why is it famous?
Legend has it that the Empress Dowager Cixi was craving crab one day but being in Beijing there was a lack of fresh crab, which was an exotic delicacy available only two months of the year. As a result, an imperial chef came up with a clever recipe that he believed could rival real crab but using only very simple day-to-day ingredients like eggs and ginger. The egg white is supposed to be the crabmeat while the yolk is to mimic the crab roe. Simpler recipes call for seasonings such as salt, sugar and cooking wine while those who are not vegetarian can add a bit of stock for more flavour. To make the dish taste even more “crab-like,” a dash of cooking vinegar helps fool the taste buds.
Where to eat it?
A lot of Chinese restaurants – even those that don’t serve imperial Chinese cuisine – have the dish on the menu. One of the places to enjoy the dish in Hong Kong is Peking Garden. Address: Shop B1 Basement 1 Alexandra House, 16-20 Chater Road, Hong Kong; Tel: 852-2526-6456.
Meanwhile, Feng Ze Yuan in Beijing is well known for serving traditional imperial cuisine, including sai pangxie. Address: 83 Zhushikou West Street, Xicheng District, Beijing; Tel: 86-10-6318-6688.
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