You know you’ve picked a good spot to eat when you give the taxi driver the address and he knows exactly what you’re up to. “The place to eat crayfish!” he’s likely to say enthusiastically.
Stepping onto the one-block stretch of Shouning Lu just south of People’s Square in downtown Shanghai, it’s easy to see why the strip’s become famous for victuals. Virtually every storefront is a restaurant, and they all seem to be selling exactly the same thing. Shouning Lu is predominantly a seafood street and is most noted for the large vats of fire-truck-red crayfish stewing outside and the grills filled with bay and sea scallops smoldering under piles of garlic.
Competition is tough here, so on a slow day, young workers will try to lure you to their stall. Pick based on atmosphere, or go to #48, A Jun BBQ, where the waitresses inside are friendly and the grillers outside don’t mind having their picture taken.
The star of the show here are the crayfish (小龙虾, xiǎo lóngxiā), which come in three spice levels and are sold by the jin, or 500 grams. One jin is enough for two people if you’re ordering other dishes. They all have a kick to them, but the spiciest level ratchets it up a notch, with Sichuan peppercorn to add to the lip and tongue-tingling sensation that is both fun and probably a boon for the Tsingtao Beer company. Indeed, we recommend preordering a few cold beers before you even start dismembering the crayfish.
The atmosphere is lively and the décor Spartan, with impossibly thin plastic tablecloths that are no match for the path of destroyed seafood shells you’ll inevitably leave here. Put on the plastic gloves to really get in the spirit, and be sure there is sweet vinegar (醋, cù) on the table not only to cut a bit of the heat but to add a delicious layer of flavor to the bits of meat you fish out.
Beyond the crayfish, it’s worth trying two different types of scallops: big (蒜茸带子, suàn róng dàizi) and small (蒜茸扇贝, suàn róng shànbèi). Both are grilled directly in their shell with a mound of fried garlic sweetened with a dash of sugar that really brings the flavor out of the scallop. Sop up the extra garlic in your scallop shell with an order of grilled bread and condensed milk (奶油馒头, nǎiyóu mántou). A few grilled lotus root skewers (藕片, ǒu piàn) and grilled bananas (香蕉, xiāngjiāo) will round out a full meal.