Singapore Stories: Chili Crab

Slurp it up Yvonne Ruperti

You can't visit Singapore without rolling up your sleeves and diving into a plate of the iconic Singapore chili crab. Though I personally prefer the spicy, drier, and equally popular Black Pepper Crab (recipe to come), chili crab is Singapore's unofficial national dish. Here, crabs are served in a huge puddle of tomato sauce that's sweet, spicy, and tangy, and often thickened with egg. Though the shells have been pre-smashed, you've gotta just dig in and use whatever tool you can find such as chopsticks or fingers (tiny forks are not handed out here) and suck out every morsel of succulent sweet crab. Bibs? I've never seen one. This is not a first date kind of a dish.

Chili crab was created in Singapore in the 1950s by Cher Yam Tian. After experimenting in her kitchen for family and friends, her crabs became a hit, and her family opened their first restaurant, Palm Beach Seafood. Since then, the dish has become a staple on menus all across Singapore, from hawker centers to shi-shi restaurants.

In Singapore, eating chili crab out is not cheap (a crab for two was around $40 at Long Beach Seafood), and we all know that you're never going to get your fill on a meal of crab (except at the awesome Chinese buffets I'd frequent back in upstate New York where I'd stuff my face with snow crab legs). Cooking crab up at home is totally the way to go. In Singapore, we use mud crabs from Sri Lanka, but any other crab should work, even soft shelled. Making this dish at home allows you to adjust the sweetness/heat level, and the rich seafood flavor that comes from cooking the crab right in the sauce is unparalleled to any that I've had in any restaurant.