Chilli crab is one of the more exotic dishes in Singapore and a beloved one amongst Singaporeans, who have a love affair with seafood and spices. It might be the geographical location of Singapore, being an island surrounded by water, making seafood an accessible source of protein. It might also be the culture because as a multi-racial society, tastes and recipes have been shared and blended amongst the ethnic groups, creating a conducive melting pot for great flavours to develop, and one of which is the perfect balance of sweetness, sourness, and savouriness, as exemplified by the chilli crab.
How it all started
Looking at the history of Singapore, it has been said that chilli crab started as a pushcart dish in the mid-1950s. It was the creation of Madam Cher Yam Tian, who used to live with her husband along the east coast of Singapore. Being so close to the beach, Madam Cher’s husband would go there to catch crabs and bring them home for his wife to steam for dinner.
What started as a simple home-cooked meal of plain steamed crabs was eventually given a more interesting spin, with chilli and tomato sauce added. Being well received amongst friends and family, Madam Cher was encouraged to sell her chilli crabs and she did so from a pushcart along the seaside. This was the start of Singapore’s chilli crab.
Modern-day chilli crab
Today’s chilli crab has gone through several modifications. It is a dish that carries a more complex flavour. Its name sounds more intimidating than the actual taste because chilli crab is not as spicy as one thinks. The main flavour comes from the sauce, which is thick and savoury, balanced with a tangy sweetness and a hint of spiciness. Mud crabs are used predominantly because of the meatiness and texture, but other types of crabs are also acceptable. The dish now comes with fried man tou, which are steamed flour buns that have been deep-fried, serving as a vehicle to soak up all the glorious goodness of the sauce.
Singaporean’s passion for crabs has spurred the creation of other scrumptious crab dishes which are popular with locals as well. From fiery black pepper crab to creamy salted egg yolk crab, eating crab is a social occasion, where cutlery is discarded and sleeves are rolled up, as diners use their hands and get messy.
Aside from crabs, you can usually order a variety of other dishes from restaurants too. These dishes include other seafood such as squids, prawns, and clams, as well as non-seafood items from venison to vegetables, appetizers to desserts.
A seafood galore
If you wish to have a chilli crab feast, there is no need to head to a restaurant by the seaside anymore. You can now order crabs and have them delivered. For instance, the menu at Crab At Bay offers up interesting delicacies such as abalone, fish maw and sea cucumbers on top of crabs, which are great for family gatherings and special celebrations. KL Roasted Delights focuses on a variety of claypot crabs and crab dishes with vermicelli noodles such as their signature chili crab and black pepper crab for moments when you would rather have crabs cooked in other ways. From Shi Kou Seafood, you can tuck into a galore of seafood dishes prepared in diverse styles that would satisfy any craving. At Banana Leaf Clementi Centre Seafood there is a myriad of local barbecue seafood dishes that would leave you happy and satisfied.
There is not much food around that could be described as finger-licking good but chilli crab is definitely one such dish. Its fiery red appearance seems to symbolize the ardent adoration Singaporeans have for this dish and judging from the crab restaurants that are always packed full of diners, it is definitely true. And now, whether you are craving for some chili crab on foodpanda or just some delicious seafood on foodpanda, it has it all!