Chili crab, Singapore's unofficial national dish, is not meant to be consumed politely covered in a gloopy sauce, the crab is usually served whole and eaten with your hands. But with gastronomic trendspotters declaring utensil-less dining the next big thing, I sought out the best of these tasty crustaceans on a recent trip to Singapore.
I started in Raffles Courtyard, next to the legendary Long Bar. The live crab is weighed in front of the customer and anything less than 2.2 lbs. (1 kg) is deemed more shell than meat. The exact sauce recipe is a closely guarded secret, but I noted plenty of garlic, ginger, honey, vinegar and chopped fresh red chili added to a rich tomato sauce a superb balance of sweet and sour.
My next stop was No Signboard on the seafront at Esplanade Arts Centre. A stylish yet modest restaurant, it was recommended by countless food-savvy Singaporeans for both the crab and the exemplary service. Seeing me ponder how best to attack the shell, a waiter discreetly slid on his plastic gloves and began deftly dissecting. The huge claws had sweet moist meat, and the sauce was a rich melding of butter, spring onion, garlic, oyster sauce and black pepper.
"Keeping the roe in gives the crab a more distinctive flavor," insisted leading Singaporean gastro-pundit Raymond Lim of Les Amis, as we sat outside at his packed local Ting Heng Seafood (tel: (65) 6323 6093), on the edge of the Geylang (red light) district. Here the crab is served ready cracked and the roe adds a crunchy intensity that's offset by a light yet pungent sauce. Now I understand why for the true chili crab cognoscenti, texture is as critical as spice.