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This Seasonal Crustacean Is All the Rage. Here’s Where To Buy It in the Bay Area

Written by Sarah HoltzPublished Jun. 09, 2023 • 7:00am
Fisherman Tommy Pearson scoops up a good catch of Santa Barbara spot prawns on May 28, 2008. | Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Dungeness crab season may have been cut short this year, but luckily, there’s another charismatic crustacean that just wiggled out of the depths and into the spotlight. The spot prawn, also called spot shrimp, is currently trending both on TikTok and on fishing boats along the Pacific coast. The good news for Bay Area residents? You can get them live and twitching at several local seafood markets.


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What Are Spot Prawns?

Most prawns are found in freshwater environments, while spot prawns are caught exclusively in the Pacific Ocean—from Alaska to northern Baja, California—with a season beginning around February and ending around October. Growing up to 9 inches long, they may look like tiny lobsters to the untrained eye, but spot prawns are, in fact, shrimp. 

What’s All the Fuss About?

Called “ama ebi” or sweet shrimp in Japanese, these 10-legged crustaceans achieve a kind of candy sweetness when kept alive until they’re cooked. But here in California, you won’t necessarily find live spot prawns at your average grocery store, which could be why we’re seeing so many recreational shrimpers and chefs post their bounties on TikTok. 

How Should I Eat Them?

Spot prawn true believers will likely insist you eat them sashimi style and as fresh as possible. Others steam or boil them for paella or for a rice bowl with a ramen egg. Take a cue from New Orleans and host a Creole-style boil with corn and sausage. Looking to make spot prawns the San Francisco way instead? You can cook them into a cioppino with other shellfish, like mussels and clams. 

Where Can I Buy Them?

Don’t sleep on these cute crustaceans. Our favorite spot in San Francisco is Seafood Center on Clement Street, where you can buy them live for $37.99 per pound as of this week. 

Lion Market—which has six locations in Milpitas, Newark and San Jose—have sold them on and off over the past few weeks. 

Asian Live Seafood Market in San Jose sold out this week after a huge uptick in demand—or "upTok," as the case may be—but the staff assured us they plan to get more in stock soon.

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