I’ve lived in Japan for a little over 5 months now. As I’ve slowly and shakily grown acclimated to life in this strange and unfamiliar country – and somehow managed to survive one curve ball after another – I thought that I’d finally arrived at a point where nothing else in this country could surprise me.
Turns out, as is so often the case, I was silly to assume that.
This past Sunday, as I was just finishing up preparing dinner, I heard a knock on my door – a delivery from the post office. My mom had told me a week prior that she’d sent me a box of Christmas presents, so I assumed her box had arrived. I signed the receipt and the delivery man handed me a large Styrofoam box – I thought it strange that my mom chose to send the gifts in Styrofoam, but I didn’t think much of it. I carried the box into my apartment, excited to take a peak at the presents inside.
But instead of finding an assortment of gifts wrapped in Christmas-themed paper, when I opened the box I came face to face with a pair of frozen, beady-eyed crabs!
After overcoming my initial shock, I realized that the delivery was not a mistake – these were indeed my crabs.
Because, you see, about 3 weeks ago I’d ordered them myself.
So, let’s rewind to 3 weeks prior: the day I noticed a curious new flyer in the teachers’ room that had a large crab drawn on the front. (My desk in the communal teachers’ room at the elementary school I work at is located next to the cabinets where staff members often post various announcements and events for others to check at their convenience.)
The sign reads: “It’s crab season! 1 is 800 yen. The better the quality the higher price. For those who want to order, please tell Mrs. Yamada (name changed for confidentiality) your address and how many you want to order.”
To give a little background info as reference, Mrs. Yamada is from Tottori prefecture, which is located along the Sea of Japan. Tottori is famous for its adult male snow crab, known as Matsuba-gani, which is caught between November and early March. Apparently, the prefectural Matsuba Crab PR Committee even sets the 4th Saturday in November as ‘Matsuba Crab Day’ and holds an annual event at the docks of Tottori City and Iwami-cho.
Now, I’m no expert on crab – I think I’ve only eaten it once in my life. And even if crab is on the menu, I never order it, since it’s just so darn expensive. I mean, why would I pay $32 for soft shell crab with just enough meat to satisfy me for the night, when I could be spending that amount on groceries for an entire week?
But 800 yen (about $8) for a WHOLE crab? And from a prefecture that’s known to have some of the best fresh crab Japan has to offer? That sounded like a pretty good deal to me.
I messaged two other JET’s who live in my apartment building and asked if they’d be interested in splitting a few crabs with me. They were, as I expected, and we agreed to split two between the three of us. I gave Mrs. Yamada my address and my order and she gave me a smile, a nod, and that was it.
Now, fast forward to last Sunday, when I opened up the Styrofoam box to find the crabs instead of presents. Not only did I have absolutely no idea what to do about them, I was also worried that they’d defrost, come back to life, and start crawling around my apartment while I took refuge on top of my loft bed.
I frantically called one of the JET’s who’d agreed to order the crab with me. Luckily, he was home, and rushed up to my apartment with a large stew pot which we then filled up with water. While we waited for the water to come to a rolling boil, we looked up articles online about how to cook crab, since neither of us had ever attempted to boil one whole before.
Once the water was ready, we lifted the crabs out of the box with a serving spoon and dropped them into the pot. We cooked them for a little less than 20 minutes.
Once the crabs had turned a deep red color, we assumed that they were ready to eat. We put the cooked crabs in the fridge, since by then it was too late to eat them right away.
The following evening, we brought out the crabs, melted some butter with garlic and parsley and had a delicious meal!
The meat was delicate and super flavorful – it was even a little sweet, which I hadn’t expected. And the texture was so soft and tender that it melted in my mouth with every bite. My friends and I picked the legs clean; there was enough meat in the two crabs to fill the three of us. At the end of the night, we all agreed that the experience was a success. Though it was a bit stressful overall, I think it was well worth the effort.
But next time I eat crab, I’m definitely planning on ordering it at a restaurant – I’d rather not have my crab surprise me at my doorstep again in the future.