Crab Grab: what is it about steamed crab that draws a crowd?

What is it about steamed crab legs?!

Wherever they are, there will inevitably be a crowd of people, old and young and in-between, from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, standing with tongs in their hands and the image of nutcrackers breaking open the shells to reveal pink-and-white flesh in their mind.

My family is not immune to this, but apparently I am. Always have been. Even before I went vegetarian. Something about the pointy claws and hard shells and faint fishy smell immediately made them undesirable to my senses. It never bothered me, not being able to partake of the snapping and cracking and slurping. But it does pose a curious question as to appeal. So this past Sunday, I finally decided I needed some answers.

~ ~ ~

This story begins this past Sunday, on my paternal grandma’s 80th birthday (we didn’t know at the time which birth anniversary she was marking). My mom and I decided to take her out to dinner at a Chinese buffet in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Afterwards, we walked along the pier, braving the tornado-warning winds, taking photos with the yachts as backdrop while making our way back to the minivan. It was a lovely, special evening and my grandma enjoyed herself immensely, if her smile while carrying food back to the table was any indicator.

One of the things that put that smile on her face was the fact that for once, we were marking an occasion by eating somewhere other than Chinatown. Nevermind that we were in a Chinese buffet… this was special because she got to get out of the apartment, ride all the way into Brooklyn, and eat lots of seafood and salads with her only granddaughter – all because it’s her own birthday. I have to hand it to my mom for (1) the idea of treating my grandma to dinner and (2) her steadfast determination to stick to the plan while improvising due to the on-and-off rain and lack of parking in C-town. I was nearly ready to throw in the towel and simply give grandma her red envelope and then postpone dinner. But postponing birthday meals to after the day is bad luck, so that would have been a terrible idea. As it turned out, everything went wonderfully. (And I didn’t have to become the granddaughter who brings bad luck on us all.)

The other reason quickly became apparent once my mother placed the first plate of crab legs in front of grandma. Her seamstress fingers immediately went to work.

It was a fascinating sight and one that I haven’t really had the opportunity to witness up close for an extended period of time. Usually there isn’t room for me around the table once everyone’s gathered around, and even when there is, my aunts and lone female cousin tend not to get why I’d want to be there if I’m not eating some. But this was just mom, grandma and me. I could stare all I wanted.

She loved it, she really really loved it!

But back to my consensus survey. Over at the buffet stand, I watched as people lined up, picked up tongs, and waited with their plates for a new batch of crab legs to come out. This is a view of the human pincers diving into the fresh tray of cooked crustacean pincers. Look at them go!

And this was the tray five SECONDS later.

And this is what the tray looked like after everyone was done and as the next round of people gathered, tongs at the ready.

This went on every 15 minutes for the rest of the evening, with restaurant patrons getting up, grabbing tongs, waiting, then diving in. When asked, here is what some of the — rather patient — customers had to say when I asked them what it is about steamed crab legs that gets them up in the morning. … um, you know what I mean.

“It tastes good.”
“What do you want?” <<suspicious glares>>
<<silent stares and gesturing with mumbled Russian>>
“It tastes good.”
“However you make it… my [West Indian] family, we put spices in the sauce, not just steam it… it tastes good.”
“I guess it’s fun to crack, too.”
“Do you work here?” <<suspicious glare>> (
That must explain why the Russian ladies wouldn’t talk to me. I forget that people often see me as Chinese first, random woman second.)
“Why, it tastes good!”

So, there it is everyone. It all comes down to taste. Which means I’m still confused because from what I remember, crab meat didn’t taste so mind-blowingly good that I’d keep getting up to wait in line for it.

Readers, am I missing something here? Some nugget of knowledge? What do you love about crab legs?

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