In tonight’s episode of Pinoy Junior Masterchef, I understand they will be cooking with crab as the main ingredient. I gather it is a major elimination round and those that remain are the lucky four that will battle it out in the finals. If you have watched the Australian version of the show, they recently tackled an episode with live lobsters, so I suppose doing one with live crabs is a reasonable local alternative. But one of the odd questions I was asked when interviewed for this episode was to talk about “gay” crabs, or what local market vendors refer to as “bakla”. Frankly, for years, I have simply purchased female crabs with aligue if I wanted the richness of the crab coral, or male crabs for almost any other use. I have always had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t a good idea to eat female crabs, as that would threaten propagation of the species, so 90% of the time I ended up with male crabs. While I never actively disputed the whole concept of same sex preferences in crab liaisons, I never really bought the idea of that they were gay — not to mention wondering if vendors distinguished between gay males or lesbian crabs… So in typical Marketman fashion, with a bit of research, a trip to the seaside market and a PHP600 purchase of three beautiful specimens, these are my conclusions… Read on and perhaps learn something new. :)
This is a MALE alimango or mud crab. You can tell by the shape of its “apron” or flap on the underbelly. In males, the shape is quite phallic, and pointed. It is less “obvious” in alimango, but if you go to this site, you will see that it definitely looks more male-like in blue crabs or alimasag. That is also one of two sites I used as reference material for this post. In juvenile or young males, the flap is tightly shut and you would difficulty prying it open. That means he probably hasn’t reached sexual maturity and hasn’t been able to get physically randy, yet. Here is a second site with comparisons of sexual markings for mud crabs. And finally a third reference, here.
This is what local vendors refer to as a GAY or “BAKLA” crab. It’s apron is a bit more rounded, almost similar at this point to a female’s apron. But the color of the shell is lighter and it seems somewhere between a clearly male specimen and a clearly female specimen, hence its local designation as being gay… go figure the logic there. In fact, it is actually a JUVENILE FEMALE CRAB, and almost certainly one that is VIRTUOUS and VIRGINAL, as its flap is tightly closed, and like that of a JUVENILE MALE, not readily pried open. This young female simply hasn’t reached sexual maturity and can’t get down and dirty, yet. :) But it is NOT NECESSARILY GAY or BAKLA and so yes, those vendors have been pulling your leg, and speaking without factual content. Please let them know the next time you’re in the market. :) While we are on this topic, I tried to figure out what the Filipino word for “virgin” would be and could only come up with “birhen” as in the Virgin Mary. Our staff suggested “hindi pa nagalaw” or literally, “untouched”. But no clear short word seemed to describe this state, which is odd, don’t you think? Is that why someone is more likely to say “Virgin ka ba? or Virgin pa sya?” which isn’t a Filipino sentence, more a taglish one. I thought it nice to name this crab a “dalaga” rather than a “manang” in lieu of “bakla” — but as someone pointed out, these days, many “dalagas” ain’t so virtuous… So for lack of a better word, the next time I go to the market, I will tell the vendor it isn’t gay, it’s a female virgin crab… :)
This crab is a FEMALE. Actually, it is a MATURE female, and note the roundness of its flap, and the color of the shell, compared to the JUVENILE FEMALE VIRGIN. You can readily open the flap of this live crab, which appears a little “hairy” around the edges, and this is a sign that it is capable of mating. However, not all mature female crabs have necessarily been mating. And here is a really interesting factoid from the reference sites, the mature females mate when they molt (or lose their shell) and a protective male covers the soft-shelled female, he flips her over so they are belly to belly, his manhood comes out and deposits sperm in her storage “cabinets” and then flips the female over and covers and protects her for several more days until her shell goes hard. Then the female walks around with a bunch of sperm in her and uses the sperm to fertilize her eggs many weeks or months later! She then has some 1+ million eggs and statistically only one or two of the little crab critters will make it to adulthood. So aha! Yes, it’s totally patently DUMB to eat either JUVENILE or ADULT FEMALE CRABS. Unless they are raised in fishponds, but even then, you could argue that the females should be allowed to propagate some more. In enlightened western countries, eating female crabs is banned, for very good reason. This is something we should explore as well.
Finally, with all three types of crabs side by side, it’s easier to see the notable differences in the shell coloration and the size of claws. The male’s claws are quite large relative to it’s body weight, and in these crabs, a purpley-orange color. The JUVENILE FEMALE is a lighter color, with some orange tips on the claws. The ADULT FEMALE is darker in color, and the tips of her claws even more orange. The shell of the JUVENILE FEMALE appears to be thinner and lighter than the adults. So there are the distinguishing marks and physical attributes of the crabs. But of course, you are now wondering, is there any truth that the different sexes taste noticeably different? That analysis, up next in a taste comparison post. :)