Photo: Courtesy of Xie Bao

Among the food-mall glories of Flushing — the original Xi’an Famous FoodsJoe’s Steam Rice Roll, the Uyghur restaurant Tarim — New York Food Court tends to be mostly overlooked. But amid the vendors who hawk flatbread stuffed with curry beef, salt-and-pepper chicken, and the usual noodles or dumplings, there is Xie Bao, a crab-roe specialist that manages to offer something truly new to the city’s food scene.

When you go, bring a crew and build a tasting menu, starting with crab-roe-stuffed pork meatballs, pork and crab-roe mooncakes, and crab-roe and shrimp spring rolls. If that’s not enough, there’s always crab-roe and chicken soup with pork skin. If it’s rice you’re after, get the crab-roe and yellow-croaker rice soup. The broth is golden-orange like egg yolk with large slices of ginger floating about. Tender chunks of fish mix with crab roe and the rice itself. Personally, I liked the chewy noodles most of all. They are served undressed, with a bowl of crab-and-roe sauce on the side. Mixed together, each bowl becomes its own crab feast, loaded with lumps of salty roe and plenty of shredded meat. It is not cheap — $30 for a “normal” size, $20 for a small — but it is also unlike versions of the dish that are sold at many other New York restaurants, where owners cut corners as they try to keep costs low.

It was opened late last year by Homer Wu, who has a Ph.D. in physics, and his wife, Cherry. “This is the food of my hometown,” he says. Wu grew up in Dafeng, a coastal district in Jiangsu, before coming to study at NYU in 1992. “I’ve always had a passion to open a Chinese restaurant, since I came here, because I don’t see many authentic Chinese foods here.”

Xie Bao specializes in Huaiyang cuisine, a style from the lower Yangtze River basin region that’s celebrated as one of China’s four great cooking traditions. And Xie Bao is — and as far as I am aware — the only restaurant in New York dedicated to the crab-roe cooking found in Jiangsu and Shanghai. (Che Li also offers a variety of crab dishes, like wine-soaked crab and crab-tofu stew.)

Wu got the idea to open his restaurant when he was in Shanghai last year. He had briefly run a restaurant there, as well, and when he walked by the old space he saw it was home to a new place with lines out the door: Xie San Bao, the popular crab-roe restaurant. “I was like, ‘Hey, this is the food I ate when I was a kid,’ and I thought, Maybe I should bring this to the U.S.,” he says.

In Shanghai, where crabs are big business, Xie Bao would be right at home. Every fall, the region is gripped with a fever for mitten crab, which the writer Fuchsia Dunlop once described as “the great autumn delicacy of eastern China.” In Shanghai, restaurants, such as Cheng Long Hang in the Huangpu District, operate their own crab farms. One restaurant — Cejerdary  — is run by a religious ascetic who believes that, because the modern world is mired in a bog of choice, we should all commit to doing one thing very well. (In his case, that thing is crab noodles.) Among mitten-crab connoisseurs, there are discussions of terroir and water quality and lakes of origins, of course; one Hong Kong writer described Yangcheng Lake as “akin to the Iberian Peninsula for its pork”; others swear by Taihu Lake. (Wu notes that when he was a kid there wasn’t farmed crab, which now dominates.) The town of Xinghua, 170 miles northwest of Shanghai, cultivates as much as 73,854 tons of hairy crab a year, the value of which is estimated at $4.32 billion.

Wu’s bet to sell crab roe to America appears to be paying off: A few weeks ago, he opened a second Xie Bao location, in Edison, New Jersey’s Festival Plaza, and the budding micro-chain has its fans: “There aren’t any Chinese places that, normally, make me want to go back,” says Irvan Xu, a sommelier. “But, Xie Bao, definitely, I will go back.”

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