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Shell of a meal

By Tang Zhihao (China Daily)

09:33, June 26, 2012

Farmers at a local crayfish breeding yard prepare their harvest for the market in Xuyi county, Jiangsu province of East China. (China Daily)

Residents of a Jiangsu county dine on crayfish to celebrate Duanwu Festival. Tang Zhihao reports in Shanghai.

While the tradition of munching on zongzi (pyramidal rice dumplings) during Duanwu (Dragon Boat) Festival has persisted wherever Chinese live around the globe, it's only in Jiangsu province's Xuyi county that people also have the custom of eating crayfish during the celebration.

Because he adores crayfish, white-collar Shanghai worker Zhao Shuqi is a frequent visitor to Shanghai's Shouning Road, which is celebrated for seafood and aquaculture. But he says he isn't sure of the crayfish offerings there compared with Xuyi's.

"Many Shanghai restaurants claim their crayfish come from Xuyi, but I can't tell which are telling the truth, since I've never been to the county," he says.

"So, I plan to visit Xuyi this year to discover the real taste of Xuyi crayfish."

Doing exactly that is what draws most foodies to the county. People like Zhao have continued driving demand for crayfish from the county.

The Jiangsu Xuyi Crayfish Association says it expects more than 2 million visitors to the county of 670,000 residents from March to September this year, compared with about 300,000 in the early 2000s. The period is locally known as "crayfish season".

Most visitors are from the Yangtze River Delta region. A consumer will spend about 1,500 yuan ($235) on average for a two- to three-day trip.

Li Jichun, an accountant from Anhui province, recalls visiting Xuyi for the first time with eight friends in 2007. They ate about 10 kilograms of crayfish on the first night, Li says.

"You see crayfish restaurants everywhere on the street. The air smells like crayfish. It's great," Li says.

"I could still smell the herbs' aroma on my hands for two days after we left. It really is the best crayfish we've ever eaten."

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