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Food Blog: Singapore Chili Crabs

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Food Blog: Singapore Chili Crabs

Sometimes the most helpful travel recommendations can come from unexpected places.

My travel companion, Jiyoung, and I aboard Singapore Airlines, known for its legendary customer service, found some useful tips. I inquired on the airline hostess for recommended places to visit. A few minutes later, she came back with a napkin on which was jotted several venues to frequent. She had sought the council of the other airline hostesses. They concurred that we must visit “No Signboard Seafood” to try the famous Singapore chili crabs.

Following their instructions dutifully, we took a cab to this venue whose name implies there is no sign. The venue was outside and had an informal “stall” feel.  After waiting in line, we ate by hand the Singaporean delicacy. The taste was sensuous and tangy. It was not as spicy as I thought. Eating the crabs is a “hands-on” experience. No utensils are necessary.

Curious, I learned about the history of this food and establishment. It turns out that the venue started in the 1970s at a stall without a signboard. Customers started informally referring to it as “No signboard.” The owners started out by selling about 3 crabs a day. In those days, selling seafood in a “hawker center” was uncommon as was eating crab.

Over the years, chili crab has evolved as a popular dish in Singapore. Two famous styles of crab cooking are with a sweet, tomato-like chili and a more savoury black pepper sauce. New flavours like salted-egg are emerging. Sometimes, diners eat chilli crabs with fried mantous or buns, usually dipping them into the sauce. The once little known dish has made great strides. In 2011, it ranked # 35 on World’s 50 most delicious foods compiled by CNN Go.

But is has not been without controversy. Apparently, in 2009, Malaysia’s Tourism Minister proclaimed that chili crabs are Malaysian and accused the nearby island Singapore of “hijacking their food.” Still, Singapore informally claims it as a national dish. It’s now sold throughout the island.

It also made it to the hit reality series “Amazing Race.” In Season 25, contestants had to crack a specified amount of chili crabs.

For anyone looking for a recipe, this comes courtesy of seriouseats.com. Visit that website for a complete list of ingredients.

  • In small bowl, stir cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water; set aside. In large wok with lid (or Dutch oven), heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in shallots, ginger, garlic, and chilies. Cook until fragrant, stirring, about 1 minute.

  • In small bowl, stir cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water; set aside. In large wok with lid (or Dutch oven), heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in shallots, ginger, garlic, and chilies. Cook until fragrant, stirring, about 1 minute.

  • Add crab pieces and broth. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Cover loosely and gently boil (decrease heat if necessary), until crab has turned red and is nearly cooked through, about 6 minutes.

  • Remove cover and stir in tomato paste and chili sauce. Simmer 1 minute and season to taste with salt, sugar, or chili sauce. Stir in cornstarch and bring to boil to thicken.

  • Remove from heat and stir in egg. Stir in green onions. Ladle into serving dish, sprinkle with Chinese parsley, and serve.