Possibly the most popular of all Asian crab dishes, Singapore chilli crab is a dish regularly eaten with bread, steamed buns or rice. Due to the lashings of rich gravy and the natural tenacity of crab shells, it’s also one of the most messy to eat. After the crab has been cleaned it’s chopped into smaller pieces and deep-fried in oil; then transferred to a second pan to be deep-fried again in the gravy with corn flour and beaten eggs added to thicken towards the end of cooking. Mud crabs are traditionally used because they are meaty and flavoursome. The gravy varies but, despite the dish’s name, it’s rarely over spicy. Chilli crab was invented by Cher Yam Tian in the 1950s when she added bottled chilli sauce, instead of tomato sauce, to her crabs. However it was Hooi Kok Wah who popularised the dish when he opened Dragon Phoenix in 1963. Hooi produced a sour version using lemon juice, vinegar, sambal and tomato paste instead of bottled sauces and it is this style that has today become one of Singapore’s most famous and sought-after dishes.
No Signboard Seafood
Famous for its chilli crab, No Signboard Seafood in Geylang is the original branch of the very popular Singaporean seafood restaurant chain created by Madam Ong Kim Hoi almost 40 years ago. Back in the late 1970s, Madam Ong opened a stall in the Mattar Road Hawker Centre selling white pepper crabs. She wistfully tells of how the stall sold only three crabs per day… a far cry from today!
Her stall never had a signboard, but by word of mouth gained a large following at a time seafood was not a popular hawker food. In 1981, when she opened the first restaurant, she adopted the No Signboard name. With both outdoor and air-conditioned areas, the Geylang outlet reminds diners of old Singapore and remains a true crab-by-the-roadside experience of old. The dish itself can be ordered with varying degrees of spiciness to suit anyone’s taste.
No Signboard Seafood in Geylang can be found at 414 Geylang Road, about five minutes’ walk from Aljunied MRT station. For the location of the other outlets, check the website.
Long Beach Seafood Restaurant
Tempted by a more spiced-up version of chilli crab? Then Long Beach’s celebrated chilli crab might be just the dish for you. Sweet and savoury, it is a perfect blend of chilli and tomato sauce and served with fried or steamed buns. Created by the award-winning Long Beach team and served up to a long list of distinguished political leaders and famous guests, such as Morgan Freeman and more recently Lady Gaga, Long Beach Seafood is a favourite spot with Singaporeans who, aside from the splendid chilli crab, also enjoy a diverse range of signature dishes and exotic seafood dishes, such as wild empurau Fish in Thai sauce, live golden striped lobster, Scottish royal scallop with passion fruit sauce and another house speciality, the deep-fried black pepper crab.
Since it opened in 1946, the brand has gone from strength to strength with outlets opening throughout the state. The main, and for many the favourite, Long Beach Seafood restaurant is located at 1018 East Coast Parkway.
Melben Legend Seafood
Away from the usual Singapore tourist restaurant trail, but easily accessible, we find a true culinary gem; the delectable Melben Legend Seafood, home to some of Singapore’s most popular crab dishes.
From its beginning in 1985, Melben Seafood restaurants have steadily expanded throughout Singapore as they have gained a reputation for offering some of the best chilli crab and crab bee hoon soup in the city. Building on the expertise of founder Melvin Soon, the chain prides itself on giving its customers an authentic taste of Singapore but at affordable prices. The rich chilli crab is delicious and available at market price. Served with soup and rice noodles, it is available to eat in or take away. Melben Legend Seafood can be found at 9 Opal Crescent, about 10 minutes’ walk from Potong Pasir MRT station. For the location of the other seven Melben outlets, check out the website.