Crayfish craze: Peeling good about it

University student Zhou Cailian, 21, got the job as a crayfish peeler at an eatery in Pudong, Shanghai, after a "peel-off" with two other applicants.

Shot by Xu Qing. Edited by Zhou Shengjie. Subtitles by Zhou Shengjie and Andy Boreham.

Crayfish craze: Peeling good about it
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Zhou Cailian shows her crayfish-peeling skills at Hema's Shanghai One outlet in the Pudong New Area.

Summer's yet to officially arrive but crayfish fever has been rising. If you are one of those who savor the crustacean delicacy but find the mandatory peeling process cumbersome and messy, then help is on hand.

Eateries are recruiting crayfish peelers — you heard right — so diners don't need to get their hands dirty. It will also allow the diners to play with their mobile phones, an insistent pastime these days.

Crayfish, or xiaolongxia, is a popular Chinese snack. Gorging on crayfish with some bottles of iced beer is one of the pleasures of summer nights for many people, especially in central and eastern China.

Among the first to recruit the peelers is Alibaba's Hema Fresh Market. Its recent recruitment post on its official Weibo account read: “Can you peel crayfish fast? Can you resist the temptation of eating them after finishing peeling? Learn about the new job of crayfish peeling!”

The food retailer has launched the recruitment in four major crayfish markets: Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Changsha.

Shanghai Daily on Wednesday went to Hema’s Shanghai One outlet in the Pudong New Area, where the so-called peeling service is available only on the weekends.

University student Zhou Cailian, 21, got the job after a “peel-off” with two other applicants.

Zhou is a foodie from central China's Hubei Province where eating crayfish is a norm. “I have been eating crayfish since I was a kid,” she said.

Store manager Han Yong said the three applicants had to peel 1.5 kilograms of crayfish. “She won with a time of 18 minutes and 16 seconds,” Han revealed.

Zhou said she took up the “part-time job" because "I have a lot of free time on weekends."

“And I enjoy doing it because I love to eat crayfish — it’s so delicious.”

What if her mouth waters while she is peeling the fish for customers, knowing fully well that she can't eat them? Zhou said it doesn't matter. "I can always buy the crayfish when I want to enjoy it."

Using gloves, wearing a mask, Zhou skilfully breaks the head off the crayfish and quickly peels the shell, but leaves a bit on the tail.

Crayfish craze: Peeling good about it
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The whole process takes barely 12 seconds.

“I keep a bit of the shell at the tail because it retains some soup which makes the shrimp more tasty,” she explained.

Han revealed that the outlet charges customers 10 yuan (US$1.48) extra per 500 grams for the peeling, topping out at 50 yuan for each order, all of which goes to the peeler.

But this early in the season, despite the crayfish craze, there have been no takers so far.

“Every time customers buy crayfish, we recommend this service,” Han said.

“People, however, seem reluctant to use it.

“For example, couples find it a bit odd to have a stranger standing beside them while they are enjoying a meal.

“And the boyfriend normally says ‘I can do the peeling for my girlfriend.’”

A mother surnamed Guo, who ordered crayfish at the outlet, told Shanghai Daily that she doesn't need the peeling service since she believes the shrimp meat tastes best when she peels the shell herself.

But with the crayfish season running until September, an upbeat Han is hopeful that customers will lap up the peeling service during the peak period.

China is the world’s largest crayfish producer, with 1.13 million tons in 2017 compared with 900,000 tons in 2016, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Crayfish craze: Peeling good about it
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A recruitment post for crayfish peelers at the Hema's outlet

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