Chilli Crab #FoodHeritage
Chili Crab dinners are a core memory for many Singaporeans — we often enjoy the dish with our family and friends on happy occasions.
It was for such occasions that the Chilli Crab dish was created in the 1950s: Mdm Cher Yam Tian and her husband Mr Lim Choo Ngee had reportedly developed the dish at home for their family and friends. They slathered stir-fried crabs with a rich, slightly spicy sauce made from bottled chilli and tomato sauce.
The dish was so well-received that Mdm Cher began selling it to the public, from a pushcart. The couple eventually expanded their business to establish a restaurant, Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant, along Upper East Coast Road in the early 1960s. The restaurant was named Palm Beach, as there were coconut palms along the beach just outside the restaurant.
However, the version of Chilli Crab that we are most familiar with today was reportedly created by Mr Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix restaurant. He decided to make the sauce fresh instead of using bottled chilli and tomato sauces. He also modified Mdm Cher’s original recipe to include eggs, vinegar, sambal, lemon juice, and tomato paste.
Cooking the Chilli Crab involves a lengthy 14 steps, where the mud crabs and the sauce are prepared before combining the two and refining the sauce. Mud crabs are typically used in the preparation of this dish as they tend to be more meaty than other crab species.
To prepare the dish, the fresh crab — typically Sri Lankan, Burmese, or Filipino mud crab — is first cleaned and chopped into smaller parts, then deep-fried in oil with garlic, ginger, and shallots for the infusion of taste. The crab is then set aside to cool, before it is taken for frying again in the chilli sauce. Copious amounts of thick tomato and chilli sauce is then added to the mix, and flour and beaten eggs near the end of the cooking process to thicken the gravy. The final frying makes the crab juicier and more tender.
Chilli Crab is typically eaten with the fingers, to prise every morsel of the delicious crab meat from the shell. Many restaurants offer nutcrackers and mallets to help diners dig into the tough parts of the shell. Cracking, smashing, and peeling the crabs make this dish more fun to eat! 🦀
Chilli Crab is served with fried or steamed buns called ‘mantou’ to mop up the saucy leftovers of the meal — before finally licking every trace of the spicy sauce from your fingers!
#ChilliCrab #FoodHeritage #OurIntangibleCulteralHeritage