There’s something very primal about attacking a bowl of crab in the shell. It’s tasty, sweet, and protected by that shell. I’m a hands-on guy, disdaining the plastic gloves and waitress assisted shelling offered by some places. It’s not as dangerous as shark wrestling or riding tigers, but those shell edges can be sharp. I wear my few crab scars proudly. This one, (Butter Garlic Crab, Boracay, Philippines) provided the perfect surface for me to slice my thumb open.
It’s part of the fun And with the help of some antiseptic lotion and a few plastic bandage strips, I got on with the rest of my day.
My journey through Singaporean food has been punctuated by the eating of crabs.
Crab is one of the more expensive food items (by local standards) anywhere you go. So initially, at least, I took the advice of more experienced locals and friends. So it was that my first Singaporean crab encounter was at Jumbo Seafood, Clarke Quay, in early August last year. I’d been working here for all of about a week, and a couple of us were sitting around the hotel talking about crab. We asked the taxi concierge who recommended Jumbo, and the taxi driver that told us we were closer to the Riverside/Clarke Quay outlet. So off we went.
I have to start by saying that I love Jumbo all to bits. I just wish that getting a table there was less of a hassle – with or without a reservation, it’s often taken several minutes of alternately pleading and acting annoyed, then up to a half hour wait, to get a table. Anyhow… the crab was Jumbo’s famous Chili Crab – lush, spicy, salty, good. Plenty of chili gravy to mop up with those little fried bread buns traditionally served alongside. There wasn’t a lot of our smallish crab to go around, but I knew then that things had changed. I was home.
I’ve had it there several times since, and I still think they do the best Chili Crab on the island. This shot is from a recent visit.
A week later, I got to see my first Black Pepper Crab at Chinatown Seafood Restaurant – I’ve been back there a dozen times since for the Gong Bao Chicken and Butter Garlic Prawns, but this was all about the crab:
Since then, I’ve had crab in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and several other places around Singapore. I’ll talk about these adventures in future posts. Anyhow, back to the eating.
It’s a good day when the crab is cracked enough so that the sauce has permeated the meat properly, and there is not too much work to do in opening the beast up, and they haven’t overcooked it. Overcooking, apart from making the meat stringy, seems to make it stick to the shell more.
The eatery usually supplies a nutcracker of some description – and sometimes a skewer or proper pronged seafood pick (the thin long forked probe used to get the meat out of the legs). The trick for me is to crack it enough that I can get to the meat without squashing it and squeezing all that lovely juicy goodness out of it. On the thinner leg shells I’ll often just use my teeth – something I won’t be doing for too many more years I guess
It gets messy – I like to have a finger bowl standing by and an open napkin/serviette/towelette ready. Many of the air conditioned places here have disposable apron/bib things (especially useful for those attending a business lunch or heading out on the town after dinner – being splattered by bits of sauce and shell is not for the neat).
Finally, at meal’s end, it’s good to sit back and survey the damage. The war is over, and mostly, we’ve won. There’s a kind of post-crab euphoria that causes everyone at the table to sigh, and reflect on the crab that was. It’s a good feeling.