SUZHOU, China - Jiang Wanchun put aside 2,000 yuan (S$400) last month to buy his favourite seafood－crabs.
The 65-year-old Suzhou resident is a crab connoisseur. Every year, from September to December, he spends one-fourth of his monthly salary to buy the delicacy. The city in Jiangsu province, East China, has been one of the country's tourist favorites for centuries.
The picky retired bookstore manager only eats those harvested from the nearby Yangcheng Lake. The crab meat is "tender, sweet and juicy", he said.
"There's a reason that the Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs have made their names nationwide," said Jiang. These crabs are usually sold across the country, gradually becoming a dinner table luxury, which encourages farmers to raise hairy crabs in other waters in the region.
"Unlike many lakes that exist on top of mud, Yangcheng Lake has numerous stones on its bed. Therefore, the crabs have clean white bellies and do not have the annoying taste of mud in their meat.
"Also, stones on the bed are more slippery than mud. To move around, the crabs need to use more strength, which will help their muscles grow firmer and (make their meat) taste more delicious," he said.
A method to check whether a crab is harvested from Yangcheng Lake is to tilt a piece of glass with an angle of 30 degrees and see if it can climb to the top of the glass, according to Jiang.
"Only those from Yangcheng Lake that have firm legs can climb to the top," Jiang said.
However, he is not happy with the high price of crabs this year. Due to the many rainy days in summer, the crabs are slower and smaller, but the price almost doubles compared with last year.
On popular e-commerce platforms, a box of eight 250-gram crabs is sold for around 1,400 yuan. The smaller ones, weighing 100 to 150 grams, are sold for about 30 yuan a crab.
"Compared with my friends in Sichuan province, I should be happy with the price here," said Jiang. "They told me that a 30-yuan crab in Suzhou is sold for about 100 yuan there."
Zhou Xuelong, deputy director of the Yangcheng Lake Crab Industry Association, said that the output of the Yangcheng Lake crabs will be down by 15 per cent this year, while the price will increase by at least 20 per cent.
"The price will be the highest in 10 years," said Zhou. "Part of the reason is that the water area available to farm crabs will be cut in half."
According to Zhou, the area will be cut from 2,130 hectares to 1,065 hectares by the end of this year. The local government is reducing the area to better protect the environment.
Yan Jinhu, secretary-general of the association, said that the lake will produce about 2,000 metric tons of hairy crabs this year, which can hardly meet the demand of the market.
"Apart from a large proportion exported to East and Southeast Asia, more than half of the Yangcheng Lake hairy crabs are sold through the internet," said Yan.
"In an effort to prevent fraud, each Yangcheng Lake crab is given a unique number engraved on a ring fitted on one of its legs."
However, he admitted that it is easy to produce fake rings, and some are already available in the market.
"The best way to have the real Yangcheng Lake crabs is to go to Suzhou," Yan said.
"You can enjoy the picturesque views of the scenic city and taste the autumn delicacy at the same time."