Wednesday, 4th April 2008 – Tamagogani (Dried Soft Shell Crabs)
I’m a pretty adventurous eater as many of you will have gathered by now. A colleague and I just fell into conversation by the coffee machine and he has just recently returned from Japan. He asked me if I’d tried Japanese soft shell crabs and then went on to say he had a bag of them. I was slightly taken aback by the idea of a bag of soft shell crabs, especially when he said he’d bought them in a Japanese sweet shop, and that most of my colleague had turned up their noses at the idea and wouldn’t even try them.
I like crab in almost any form, so I was game to give it a go. He came round to my desk with a large plastic bag which did indeed look much like the sort of bag boiled sweets come in, though to be fair this one had a picture of a crab on it.
I was instructed to take a sniff at the contents of the bag first, and so I did as suggested. The first thing that hits you is the smell of crab, rather like a particularly good seafood bisque. The second thing is that these crabs are tiny, no more than an inch across if that. These are the entire crab (though most of them seem to missing a leg or 6), dried and seasoned and meant to be eaten rather like popcorn.
Taking a bite the first thing that hits me was a flavour rather like that of the dusting of five spice powder you get on “seaweed” in a Chinese restaurant. The sweetness wears off but is almost caramel-like initially. It gives way steadily but slowly as you crunch into the little morsels and it all packs down, providing a final seafoody-wave of crab flavour as you finish them off, and they have a toffee-like consistency at this stage so you do have o give them a thorough chewing.
I can imagine eating them with a cold, cold beer or with sake. They’re extremely crunchy little devils though, worse than peanut brittle, and my fillings can only just cope at present. The photo below shows two of them alongside a coffee spoon for scale.