’Tis the season for Hanasaki crabs here in Hokkaido. ‘Hanasaki’ means ‘flower-blossoming’ and it’s an extraordinarily poetic name for a spiky crab. Some say the crabs are named for the area they’re caught in, around Hanasaki in Nemuro. Another story is that the way they turn red when boiled is akin to blooming flowers. In English they’re known as ‘spiny king crab’ which is more prosaic but makes more sense, given that it doesn’t yield its sweet flesh very easily.
At our hotel in Nemuro, they serve each person one whole crab, simply boiled. Armed with a pair of scissors and a metal crab-scraper, I get to excavating Hanasaki-san, mostly ignoring the other small dishes in front of me. It’s difficult to comfortably grip these crab legs with all the spikes, and snipping through the shell itself is a workout. I feel like I’m struggling towards a small goal of some kind. I taste a little but place the crab meat on my plate instead of eating it immediately. The pile of shell fragments grows and so does the heap of crab meat.
“We had this lady on the last tour who wouldn’t eat any of her crab until she’d picked it all out… Come to think of it, she was Malaysian.” My colleague, Dan, occasionally offers a comment while I’m battling with this boiled crustacean.
“Your point being?”
“All I’m saying is, there’s a connection there…”
“I just like the idea of having a pile of crab in front of me, okay…”
After the legs have been scraped clean – a painstaking 20 – 30 minute process – I scoop as much tomalley out of the main body as I can, smearing it on the heap of crab meat. Known as kanimiso in Japanese, the tomalley is slightly muddy yellow, creamy and rich. With a little soy sauce both meat and tomalley are all quite divine over hot white rice.
Two hours after dinner my fingers still smell faintly crabby. I feel a little sick but it was rather worth it.
Furochan: 1, Hanasaki Crab: 0
Addendum: while verifying the word for kanimiso in English I found a lovely piece of writing by Chichi Wang, whose Serious Eats column about offal and innards and other nasty bits I absolutely love. A lady after my own heart. Definitely read.