Young and Hungry

The Sourcing Game: Are Those Crawfish from Louisiana or China?

crawfish 3

Customers were shelling out for those "Louisiana" crawfish

You can lay your hands on just about anything in D.C. Endangered bluefin tuna? Go to Sushi Taro (where the guilt is almost as rich as the fish). Genuine Japanese kobe? Head to BLT Steak (where you'll shell out $26 per ounce for the buttery beef). Wild sturgeon caviar from the Caspian? You can still get it at Balducci's in Bethesda (where salty sevruga will set you back $155 for a 1-ounce jar).

But if you want Louisiana crawfish? Good freaking luck.

Last week, I made some calls to find out who might be boiling up mud bugs during the season in which every breathing soul in Louisiana, short of nursing infants, is sucking on crawdad heads. I pretty much came up empty, although one reader suggested I head to the Maine Avenue Fish Market and get me a bag of bugs. Which is what I did.

crawfish 2I got the runaround on the phone when I called Jessie Taylor Seafood to inquire about the source of its crawfish. (Snippet from my call: Where are your crawfish from? "They're frozen." Yes, but from where? "The South." OK, but Louisiana or Alabama? "Yes.")

Things didn't go much better once I arrived at the fish market. Taylor does sell crawfish, but the mud bugs come in five-pound bags that are frozen solid, as heavy as a quick-dry cement. I asked the fishmonger about the shellfish's origin, and he said they come from Louisiana and Alabama. The five-pound bag, he added, would run me $25.

crawfish bagI bought the bag anyway and immediately noticed the stamp across the front: PRODUCT OF CHINA. I was so annoyed that it took me a second to register the other information on the bag: WHOLE COOKED CRAWFISH, BLOCK FROZEN & UNSEASONED.

I marched across the parking lot to the Jessie Taylor stand on the other side of the fish market, where they sell ready-to-eat oysters, crabs, and crawfish. I asked the guy behind the counter about the crawfish's origins. He unflinchingly responded, "Louisiana," as proud as a first-time father. I then asked if he sells the same mud bugs as the frozen ones you can buy in a bag across the way. He said yes.

Somewhat dispirited, I headed home with my cement block of crawfish, some boil seasonings, and a strong urge to smack the nearest fishmonger across the face with a 30-pound halibut.

Mid-way through last night's telecast of the Oscars, I started to cook up my crawfish (excuse me, reheat my previously cooked crawfish), hoping that somehow the boil seasonings would flavor the shellfish in the short amount of time required to get them up to temperature.

They didn't. The mud bugs required a liberal sprinkling of Old Bay to pump up their flavor, which is not my preferred way to eat them. Dousing crawfish in seasoning mixture is, to me, the equivalent of drowning oysters in cocktail sauce. I prefer my crawfish to gently absorb the flavor of the seasonings while maintaining their essential sweetness.

And yet...and yet, I had to admit that despite all the frustrations with the questionable sourcing and all the frustrations about the lack of a proper boil, I was really digging these crawdads. I was enjoying the process of pulling them apart, sucking the heads, and exposing the moist, meaty tail section. It reminded me that eating crawfish is sort of like eating burgers: Even the mediocre ones are still mighty fine.

crawfish finished

  • monkeyrotica

    Most of the crawfish sold in Louisiana during Mardis Gras comes from China. China's been dumping crawfish for decades now, which has hammered an already weak domestic crawfish industry.

  • Tim Carman

    Thanks, Monkey. For a more up-to-date snapshot of the La. crawfish industry, you can read the LSU Ag Center's new crawfish blog, which is updated weekly:

  • Angie New Orleans

    As a New Orleanian living in DC for over 20 years I was really happy to find the Sea Side Crab Shack at Eden Center near 7 corners in Virginia. Though their crawfish are not boiled, if you ask for them extra spicy they are good and are from Louisiana.

    I've had the frozen crawfish from Jessie Taylor Seafood and didn't like them, but sometimes I would be that desperate for a taste of home. Now I always go to VA.

    Who Dat!

  • Bryan

    Yeah, you can start to get local farm raised crawfish around Mardi Gras, but they're pretty small. They don't really get going until March, and you can't get wild ones until May. Ain't nothing like some good burled mud bugs though.

  • Todd A. Price

    Down here in Louisiana, we only boil live crawfish. The frozen stuff is used for other dishes.

    There are a lot of reasons to avoid Chinese crawfish. Personally, I think they taste terrible. And outside of Louisiana, where its a native species, crawfish farming does enormous environmental damage.

    Sadly, not even all the vendors at Jazz Fest insist on the local product. Here is a story I wrote a few years ago about that. I doubt the situation has changed much:

  • Tim Carman


    Thanks for writing and posting your story. I also heard from the La. Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries Seafood Promotion/Marketing Board. I'm planning an update later today on Louisiana crawfish.


  • Lorin Gaudin

    We're boiling 300 pounds of Belle River crawfish this weekend for the Irish Channel St. Patty's Day parade. They weren't easy to find (thank you lousy, long winter), but we got some and FWIW, we'd NEVER buy Chinese way, no how.

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  • Hadacol

    Monkey, you don't beans about crawfish. LIVE CRAWFISH, which don't usually come in til after the average Mardi Gras date, are invariably from the Gulf Coast, generally all Louisiana with some East Texas thrown in.

    Tails are a whole nother deal. But the "crawfish that people eat during Mardi Gras" (we eat lots of stuff during Carnival, but generally it's so early that boiled bugs aren't a part of the scene)) you are not so incorrect-Chinese tails have seriously damaged the market. I won't buy or eat them, but lots of people never even look at the label. they are generally tasteless, not enough fat, and damned sure not enough spice.

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  • Jimmy

    I own a restaurant in Vietnam and I am about to start adding crawfish to my menu. However, due to cost factor, I have to buy crawfish from China. My question is, if I give it enough spice, would crawfish from China taste alright?
    Please be easy on me...I need your opinion.

    Thank you everyone!

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