cartoon chilli crab

How Chilli Crab Became Singapore’s National Dish and Where You’ll Find the Best

No other dish exemplifies the genius of the Singaporean kitchen as well as chilli crab, a speciality that incorporates vast culinary influence. Chilli crab is one of Singapore’s most well-known dishes, a great source of national pride for locals and a must-try for anyone visiting this bustling city-state.

The legend of the chilli crab

A plate of chilli crab
A heaping pile of chilli crab. Source: Shutterstock

Chilli crab dates back to 1956, when Singapore pair Cher Yam Tian and Lim Choon Ngee opened a food stand next to the Kallang River. Using an open charcoal fire and a few wooden tables and chairs to seat their guests, the restaurateurs’ reputation slowly began to grow. Rather than offering flashy decorations and a huge menu, the couple stuck to what they were best at: cooking simple, seriously delicious seafood.

Soon enough, the secret was out and Singaporeans everywhere were buzzing about the stand. Yam Tian and Choon Ngee had acquired a huge following of crab lovers. So huge, in fact, that a little stand by the river couldn’t cut it anymore. The pair needed to upgrade their kitchen, and that they did, eventually moving to a larger premises on Upper East Coast Road in Bedok Beach. The move was a success, and Singapore’s chilli crab connoisseurs followed.

What was all the fuss about? Well, Yam Tian and Choon Ngee were doing things differently. They didn’t use a boring tomato sauce to baste their chilli crab, instead they improvised and used cheap, bottled hot sauce. The result was sweet, spicy and tangy – a sauce that had people hooked from the very first bite. Other chefs caught on and tried to muster their own versions, and local pioneer Hooi Kok Wah was actually quite successful. He added lemon juice, sambal, tomato paste, vinegar and egg white, turning the sauce into a sort of silky, rich gravy. His recipe would later go on to inspire chilli crab as a national dish of Singapore.

Plate of chilli crab
Glorious chilli crab. Source: Shutterstock

Chilli crab in Singapore today

As chilli crab experts will know, however, the secret isn’t just in the sauce. Today as much as ever, the quality of the crab meat itself is also of utmost importance. The most common crustacean used in the dish is the mud crab, usually hailing from Myanmar, the Philippines or Sri Lanka. The crabs are first deep fried in hot oil, then allowed to cool before the chef fries them again in the chilli sauce. This ensures the meat is tender and succulent.

Tender meat means chilli crab requires no knife and fork. That’s right, folks, in restaurants all over Singapore, crab lovers dig in with their hands. They get messy and they have a blast while doing so. Mallets and nutcrackers are often used for digging into the tougher parts of the orangey-red shell and the cracking, smashing and peeling is all part of why this dish is so well-loved. It’s a hands on experience that we can’t get enough of. The aromas, too, are otherworldly.

No two chilli crab recipes are identical in this city. Every chef puts their own special touch on the chilli crab they serve. Exploring the different varieties of chilli crab at Singapore’s restaurants is just part of the fun!

Where to find the best chilli crab in Singapore?

Check out some of our favourites below.

1. Momma Kong’s

34 Mosque Street, Singapore 059512

Singaporeans travel from all over the island to Chinatown to sample Momma Kong’s famous chilli crab. In addition to chilli crab, this restaurant also serves other delicacies like crab bee hoon soup and butter crab, among others. It’s a must-visit restaurant for crab lovers everywhere.

Book a table at Momma Kong’s

 

2. Uncle Leong Seafood

6 Tebing Lane, #01-03, Punggol East, Singapore 828835 & 15 Lor 8 Toa Payoh, Singapore 319262

With two locations in Singapore, Uncle Leong Seafood makes it easy to get your chilli crab fix. This crab-obsessed restaurant dishes out an array of different flavours of crab, so in addition to chilli crab you can look forward to creamy butter crab, salted egg crab, claypot curry crab, black pepper crab… you get the picture. We recommend giving them all a try.

Book at Uncle Leong Seafood – Punggol Book at Uncle Leong Seafood – Toa Payoh

 

3. Tekong Seafood Restaurant

Tekong Seafood Restaurant, Blk 6 Changi Village Rd #01-03, Singapore 509907

With over 35 years serving Singaporean’s biggest crab lovers, Tekong Seafood Restaurant just keeps on churning out fabulously fresh dishes. This Changi village gem is the perfect place to crack into some tasty chilli crab while enjoying the fine Singapore weather – the outdoor dining area is spacious and charming.

Book a table at Tekong Seafood Restaurant  

 

4. House of Seafood

3 Punggol Point Road, Singapore 828694, The Punggol Settlement #01-01 & #01-02

Well, the name says it all. This place is crazy about seafood, and so are its fans. As you might expect, the restaurant serves plenty of crab, and the award-winning chilli crab here is spectacular. Drop by and taste what we mean.

Check out House of Seafood

Chilli crab in Singapore is more than just a dish

As anyone familiar with Singapore knows, then, the chilli crab is a testament to the uniqueness of the local cuisine. Like the country itself, it’s unafraid to cross culinary boundaries and it fuses together ingredients from countries far and wide. Chilli crab embodies a part of Singapore’s rich history. It has withstood the test of time and it’s a dish Singapore deserves to be proud of.

 

Sara Strickland

Sara Strickland

After studying history in Florida, Sara moved to Berlin to follow her dream of living in Germany. She enjoys long walks with a beer in hand, learning new things and the sport of dogspotting.

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