You can’t say you’ve lived in Singapore if you haven’t tried this unofficial national dish: Chilli Crab.
Regardless if you’ve had it, crave it, or trying it for the first time, go straight to one of these restos – famed for serving some of the best and most interesting versions of chilli crab on the Red Dot.
In the 1950s, Madam Cher Yam Tian who ran an eatery on Bedok Beach along Upper East Coast Road (before land reclamation), created a spicy crab dish. She spiked the crustacean dish with sambal (oriental hot relish), and served it with crusty French bread. It eventually became a signature dish, well-loved by her regulars.
Madam Cher’s son, Roland Lim, owner of Roland Restaurant at Marine Parade Central, continues to serve this iconic speciality – a lighter, sweeter version of his mother’s original chilli crab creation. The fresh Sri Lankan crab meat is bathed in a rich, piquant gravy that’s well balanced and aromatic, and is best enjoyed with deep-fried mantou (Chinese bun). Other dishes to try at this old school restaurant include sambal mussels, fried baby squids and a cockles dip made with Madam Cher’s homemade chilli sauce recipe.
Roland Restaurant is located on the 6th floor of a nondescript car park building (next to a FairPrice Finest supermarket) at Marine Parade Central. This place, although old and a little bit run-down is a must-visit if you want to taste an original Singapore chilli crab dish. Go there on a weeknight as it’s less crowded.
The famous sweet, spicy and sour chilli crab dish that we are familiar with today was created by master chef Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix in 1963. The crustacean, which comes with a thick gravy of tomato sauce, chilli-ginger sauce and eggs is still consistently well-executed by the kitchen team to this day.
The first Dragon Phoenix Restaurant was located along Maxwell Road, with a series of relocations throughout the decades before its current incarnation as Dragon Phoenix Classic at Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay, with a second restaurant, Dragon Phoenix Grand, located at Rifle Range Road. Today, Chef Hooi still actively oversees the kitchen. His son, Chris Hooi, who is executive director, also runs the business.
Besides Dragon Phoenix Classic, you can enjoy this chilli crab dish at The Lobby Lounge at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore. Chef Hooi shared his original recipe with its kitchen team for the hotel’s curated local hawker heritage food menu.
Established in 1976, Red House Seafood is another restaurant famous for its crab dishes. The previous owners came up with their own rendition of black pepper crab and chilli crab. The black pepper crab was inspired by western cooking (black pepper steak) and the chilli crab was inspired by Peranakan cuisine, hence the restaurant’s version is always sweet and spicy (as opposed to other restaurants with a distinct local flavour with more spice, peanuts etc.).
Large and succulent Sri Lankan mud crabs are used to cook this dish. The sauce is a fusion of tangy, spicy and sweet flavours. It’s rich enough thanks to the addition of crab roe, fresh tomatoes and ribbons of egg, yet not overly cloying. Red House Seafood originally served the chilli crab with white bread, which they bought from bakeries. During Chinese New Year in 1988, many bakeries were closed and the restaurant didn’t have any bread to serve with the crabs, so they offered mantou instead, which till today, remains the perfect complement for this dish. Recommended outlets to bring out-of-town guests to are its Prinsep Street shophouse and Robertson Quay, by the river.
Before Singapore’s land reclamation project was completed in 1970, Upper East Coast Road was the centre of Singapore’s seafood universe. Restaurants such as Red House Seafood, Spring Court and Palm Beach Seafood fronted the shore in those days. Although these restaurants were made to relocate in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, Hua Yu Wee has lingered on till today, thanks to its permanent permission license to continue operating there.
Here at the last remaining bungalow-style restaurant on the shady East Coast stretch, diners get to feast either in the air-conditioned dining room or at the backyard under the huge awning. The restaurant’s brigade of cooks roll out plate after plate of seafood and meat dishes in the large kitchen, located in an annex next to the car park. The chilli crab here may be spicier than others, but is still succulent and satisfying.
Tip: If the weather is balmy and pleasant, sit at the back of the house under the starry sky. The sea view no longer exists but it’s the food that’s its mainstay. The car park is small and crowded, so it’s best to take a taxi there.
(image: Courtesy of Blue Lotus)
The Blue Lotus signature Chilli Pomelo Crab is one of the standout Asian dishes at Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa, Quayside Isle. The secret is in the sauce, which contains assam (tamarind), chilli, ginger flower and herbs. The addition of pomelo pulp lends a refreshing tangy bite to the Sri Lankan crab meat. Since the restaurant opened in 2013, over 100,000 Pomelo Chilli Crab dishes have been readily consumed.
While it’s best to enjoy the original Chilli Pomelo Crab at Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa (a mainstay despite a menu change after Chinese New Year), diners can still enjoy dishes that feature the special sauce at other outlets. For example, diners can tuck into the Chilli Pomelo La Mian Soup ($24), thick with ingredients such as la mian (Chinese handmade noodle), broccolini, fresh herbs and of course, hand peeled crab meat, at Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House @ Tanjong Pagar.
The restaurant name says it all – Seafood Paradise‘s rendition of chilli crab features a well-balanced sauce that’s subtly sweet, spicy and tangy; they’re also known for their Creamy Butter Crab, prepared with curry leaves, white pepper, lemongrass and chilli padi (Bird’s eye chilli), and topped with coconut crumbs. Another bonus: Located at Marina Bay Sands, the outlet here is one of the chilli crab restaurants with a more refined setting.
If you like your chilli crab a little spicier, than try the one here at Long Beach Seafood Restaurant. The bright orange thick gravy is blend of the sweet (tomato sauce) and the fiery (chilli) with the fresh crab meat — mop it all up with either the steamed or fried mantous. And if you need more spice kicks (and have enough space in your stomach), then try its signature black pepper crab as well.
Tomato-based, mildly spiced sauces is at the heart and soul of traditional Italian pastas like marinara or amatricana, so it’s no surprise that SG’s chilli crab works wonders when reinvented as a pasta dish. Grub‘s rendition is a delicious mix of linguine in a chunky Singapore-style chilli crab sauce, topped with a whole battered soft shell crab that livens up the entire dish.
Every dish here delights your tastebuds, but one of the most memorable plates is this: Local Wild Caught Crab. The star item is the signature chilli crab ice cream, served with egg whites and salted mackerel for a unique melody of salty, savoury, spicy and icy flavours.
Text adapted from www.thepeakmagazine.com.sg / by Amy Van; Additional reporting: Sara Lyle Bow + Christopher Ong, 23 August 2018
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