Dining Out 3 minutes 19 March 2020

Where To Eat Chilli Crab In Singapore

Our MICHELIN Guide inspectors have scoured the island to bring you their favourite restaurants to get cracking at Singapore's most iconic dish.

Singapore Food Singapore street food

The history of Singapore's world-famous national dish is as rich as the gravy that blankets it. Chilli crab is said to have been created in the mid 1950s by street food hawker Cher Yam Tian when she added bottled chilli sauce to her stir-fried crabs and started peddling it from a pushcart in Kallang. The sweet, tangy and spicy dish was an instant hit and inspired many cooks from all over the country to try their hands at the recipe.

The version that we are most acquainted with today, however, is based on the recipe created by Hooi Kok Wah, one of the four local chefs known as the “heavenly kings” of Chinese cuisine in the 1960s. Hooi’s rendition calls for meaty mud crabs to be first deep fried in hot oil then fried again in a chilli sauce that incorporates lemon juice, vinegar, sambal, tomato paste and egg white. The result: tender and succulent crab meat and a rich, moreish gravy that is eaten with pillowy steamed buns.

Chilli crab can be found at almost every seafood restaurant in Singapore, though you'll more likely find locals cracking claws and slurping sauce at many of the cze char joints dotting the island — these casual stalls in heartland eating houses offer a cheap alternative to Chinese restaurants for a wide range of cooked-to-order communal dishes.

Here are six spots recommended by our inspectors that serve this well-loved dish.

(Photo: Alliance Seafood)
(Photo: Alliance Seafood)

Alliance Seafood
Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

Alliance Seafood is a 30-year-old seafood institution at the popular Newton Circus Food Centre that featured in the 2019 hit movie Crazy Rich Asians. The must-order item on the menu is, of course, chilli crab. Sweet, tangy, and with the right level of heat, the sauce for this chilli crab dish is what makes it irresistible. Only plump Sri Lankan crabs are used for their signature dish, which is served coated in an eggy gravy of ketchup and chilli that begs to be mopped up with fried mantou (steamed buns).

What our inspectors say: BBQ seafood. Don't miss the chilli crab or the black pepper crab made using live crabs.

Mellben Seafood (Ang Mo Kio)
MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

Crab specialist Mellben Seafood’s take on this Singapore favourite features a thick, spicy chilli sauce that leans towards the sweet side. Large, meaty crabs are slathered generously in the eggy sauce to be accompanied with golden fried mantous.

What our inspectors say: It may not be in the most convenient location but that doesn't deter the crowds from descending on this open-air space. Nearly everyone is here for one thing: crab. The chef has 15 different ways to cook them, from black pepper crab to creamy butter crab and that, of course, includes the classic chilli crab. There's also live seafood available, along with cze char dishes - and the claypot bee hoon soup is delicious.

(Photo: Roland Restaurant)
(Photo: Roland Restaurant)

MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

This 20-year-old homegrown restaurant in eastern Singapore is often credited for being the original creator of the chilli crab in the 1950s. Current owner Roland Lim is the son of Madam Cher Yam Tian who is said to have created the first chilli crab dish. He is tight-lipped about his mother’s secret recipe but divulges that the trademark sauce contains the usual ingredients such as eggs, sambal chilli and tomato, giving the dish its characteristic red hue and spicy kick.

What our inspectors say: It's named after the current owner, who is from the second generation of the family business. But he is deeply indebted to his mother Mdm Cher who came up with her original chilli crab in the 1950s that made a name for itself. Sri Lankan crabs are fried, seasoned with the secret 'mum's chilli sauce' and served with house-made fried buns. Also save room for black sauce prawn, and pomfret two ways. Dim sum is served in old-school push carts on weekends.

(Photo: Keng Eng Kee)
(Photo: Keng Eng Kee)

Keng Eng Kee 
MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

Though made famous on Netflix’s Street Food only recently, 50-year-old cze char restaurant Keng Eng Kee has always been popular with locals and tourists who come for its expertly cooked wok-fried dishes. While both the fiery black pepper crab and chilli crab are highly recommended, it is only with the latter that you get a luscious, sweet yet spicy sauce to wipe up with fist-sized soft steamed buns.

What our inspectors say: This popular cze char restaurant may not be the most conveniently placed, but it does some great dishes, like fried salted egg crab, coffee pork ribs and claypot duck with sea cucumber. The setting and environment are not unlike a hawker centre, although there is a smaller inside area that's air-conditioned. It provides mostly Hainanese cuisine, along with some Cantonese dishes - the stir-fries are particularly delicious.

(Photo: Sin Hoi Sai)
(Photo: Sin Hoi Sai)

Sin Hoi Sai (Tiong Bahru)
MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

This seafood cze char restaurant is a celebrity favourite and famous faces spotted there include Taiwanese singers A-Mei, Wang Lee Hom and popular rock band Mayday. Live crabs make for succulent, meaty flesh while the more viscous version of the chilli gravy is best enjoyed when slurped by the spoonful.

What our inspectors say: Located in a residential area and with over 30 years of history is this well-known seafood restaurant. On offer is live seafood only, from fish to shellfish - customers choose what they want from the tank. Don't miss the famous local choices of chilli crab and black pepper crab; the local cze char dishes are also good. You can sit inside or outside - the latter is the more atmospheric and relaxing area.

Tunglok Signatures (Clarke Quay)
MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2019

Chilli crab features prominently as one of the top eight signature dishes on the menu at fine dining establishment Tunglok Signatures. Their elegant version features fresh crab in a spicy tomato-based sauce enlivened with a hint of citrus from an unusual addition: freshly squeezed orange juice.

What our inspectors say: Good ingredients and authentic flavours make this Chinese restaurant a worthy choice if you're seeking sustenance in The Central shopping mall. It is one of three branches in Singapore and you can find authentic Cantonese dishes on the menu. Specialities include crispy roast Irish duck, and curry prawn served with fried bun. It's a big, busy and keenly run restaurant, with outside tables that provide good views of Clarke Quay.

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