Saturday, 14 March 2015

CHILLI CRABS: MY FAVOURITE SINGAPOREAN CUISINE

As a child my favourite pastime was to go to the paddy fields with my grandfather and literally dig out the small crabs from their hideouts. I was quite afraid to catch those decapods scurrying really fast on the grassland but my grandpa was adept in grabbing them. He would collect tens of them in no time put them in a small container made up of bamboo sticks with a lid. When the container filled up we would return as the crabs made lot of scratching noise inside it trying vainly to crawl out. On reaching home my grandmother would take out the crabs one by one and break their legs and separate their hard flattened carapace and the folded abdomen. They would try to grab my grandma’s fingers with their pincer like big legs but hardly succeed. I enjoyed seeing how they were dressed and made ready to be cooked. Only the big legs with pincers were used for cooking along with the hard cell and abdomen. The little legs were discarded. My mother would cook them in an earthen pot and the aroma of the curry would work as an appetiser for me. I enjoyed the gravy and the meat that came out after cracking the hard cell of the big legs.

Crab meat has been a favourite dish for me right from my childhood. As I grew up we shifted to Brahmapur,  a town near the Chilka lake in Odisha. This salt water lake is famous for fishing of various kinds of sea food including prawns and crabs. After coming to this town I was amazed to see very large crabs being sold in the market wrapped in nets as those live crabs had the capacity to slice your finger with their awesome pincers. My father would get one of those crabs and my mother used to put it in boiling water without taking out the wrapper net. Once the crab died and got boiled she would take it out and cut it with a knife. She would then cook it with some spices adding a few pieces of potato. Unlike the paddy field crabs these Chilka lake crabs had a lot of meat and tasted much more delicious. And aroma of the gravy was really unique. One has to eat this crab curry prepared in a Odia household to know exactly what I mean.

If you are coming to Odisha for a visit then don’t miss the Chilka lake and try crab curry with plain steamed rice in a coastal restaurant. I bet you will relish the meal.

I have never eaten crab outside my state, Odisha. I hardly find it in the menu card of most restaurants. Few star hotels might have this item in their menu but not many common men have access to those places. The Chilli crab in the Singaporean takeaway menu fascinated my appetence for crab meat. This cuisine is prepared using mud crabs and stir-frying it in a semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli based sauce. Despite its name Chilli crab is not a very spicy dish. Chilli crab has been promoted by The Singapore Tourism Board as one of Singapore's unofficial National Dishes, and can be found in seafood restaurants all over the island. It is traditionally eaten with bare hands as a means to savour the juicy crab meat with its sweet and spicy chilli sauce.    

This dish was created in 1956 by Lim Choon Ngee and his wife Cher Yam Tian at a humble seafood eatery at Kallang River. Their original version was fresh crab cooked with chilli and tomato sauce, and served with crusty French bread. But now several variations are available in various restaurants in Singapore. No Signboard Seafood, Red House, Seafood Paradise, Jumbo Seafood, Mattar Road Seafood Barbeque are some of the top restaurants offering this delicacy.

            However, I still doubt if this crab preparation can actually beat the simple household crab curry preparation in Odisha.

To know more about Chilli Crabs and other Singaporean cuisine click on the link: http://discover.stayfareast.com/

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