Horseshoe Crab

Where is the food I know? Pizza, kebab, fish-n-chips.

Eating food in Malaysia is an adventure, I never know what is going to come next, what I am eating, what will it taste like, will I like it or hate it.

Fish and sea food is a big part of the dietary culture of South East Asia, especially in the coastal regions, and unfortunately, it is not a food high on my “like list”, in fact, I avoid fish and marine food as much as possible. My avoidance of fish does not usually present problems, as most fish restaurants will have a meat dish, and grass dishes, sorry vegetables.

I will try anything, and that includes food, but fish, no thank you, unless it comes in batter, traditionally served in the British fish-n-chips meal.

I think my dislike of fish came from when I was a small boy at primary school, when we were told to eat everything on our plate, as just think of all those starving people who had nothing to eat. Being a trusting and loving young boy I did eat everything, including the bones, and now feeling a fish bone in my mouth makes me want to vomit.

I could never understand why my offer of the unwanted food on my plate I did not want to eat was always refused to be sent out to the starving people.

I must be typically British, only liking bland food, some cultures, the stronger the taste and smell of the fish the better people like it. Here in Malaysia and in the flat below mine in Norbiton Hall in the UK, the stronger the smell that can be produced whilst cooking the fish, the better is the presupposition, or belief is, that the better the food will taste. Oh Poo Poo literally.

So, a small party of the family, staying in our home here in Bukit Mertajam, decided that it was time to go to a small fishing village, to eat at one of the fish restaurants.

I emptied my mine of any idea of having to eat fish, crab, lobster, squid, prawn, whatever, at least there would be rice.

The first dish to arrive was a Horseshoe Crab. Certainly something I had never eaten before, in fact something I had never seen before, only in pictures or on the TV, or its’ shell being used as a helmet by Manny the Mammoth in the film Ice Age 3

The shell of the Horseshoe crab, also being held by the sword like tail

This strange creature is not a crab at all, but is closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions. It is said to be a “living fossil”, as evidence exists in fossil remains dating back to the Triassic period some 230 million years ago, and similar fossils from the Devoian period some 400 million years ago. 

The Horseshoe Crab, or as it is also known in Malaysia and surrounding region as the King Crab, has three main parts to its body, the head, the helmet shaped part, the abdominal part and the tail or as it is known the telson, each hard shell like structures.

The crustacean was served up-side-down, and I had no idea what to eat, or how to eat it.

The Horseshoe Crab ready to eat

All I saw was the hard sword like tail pointing towards me, the helmet part filled with vegetables and roe, eggs. The roe or eggs were brown leather coloured, and upon eating them, they were like leather in texture and having no strong taste. But, there was no meat, only eggs. I was told that the only the female Horseshoe Crab is used, and then only the eggs.

Later upon leaving the restaurant, you have to walk past the tanks, buckets and boxes of sea life, waiting to be put to the pot, and then I spied a bucket of Horseshoe Crabs, the top one being upside down. It was then I understood why there is no meat. The body is very small.

A bucket of Horseshoe Crabs ready for the pot

In the next photograph, the underside of the Horseshoe crab can be seen.

The appendages of the Horseshoe Crab

In the lower half of the picture are six appendages, the first pair, the chelicera are the genital pores, whilst the remaining five pairs are the inedible lungs or book gills, which allows the Horseshoe Crab to breath out of water, as long as the lungs are kept wet. As the female lays her eggs on the beaches in sand, and I believe mating occurs at this time, breathing out of water is desirable.

In the upper half of the picture can be seen the “legs” or another six pairs of appendages, each having a distinct purpose and shape. the first are used to pass food into its’ mouth. The second pair are used for walking, with the remaining four pairs used as pushers for movement.

So now I can add the Horseshoe Crab to the list of many strange things I have eaten, I have tried this food, and it was not that bad.

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