Where to Eat the Best Chilli Crab in Singapore (Plus a Quick History Lesson)
Except for perhaps Hainanese chicken rice, no other dish exemplifies the genius of the Singaporean kitchen as well as chilli crab. Chilli crab is one of Singapore’s most well-known dishes, a signature recipe that incorporates vast culinary influence. It’s of course a source of great national pride for locals and a must-try for anyone visiting this bustling city-state.
The History of Chilli Crab
Who created this iconic dish?
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 makes chilli crab so damn delicious?
Wouldn’t you like to know. Well, Yam Tian and Choon Ngee were doing things differently, especially when it came to their chilli crab sauce. They didn’t use any old boring tomato sauce to baste their crustacean. 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 the national dish of Singapore.
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 meatier the better. 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.
So, how do the heck do you eat the stuff?
When cooked perfectly, the tender crab means this dish requires zero knife and fork. That’s right, folks, in local seafood 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. To mop up the delicious saucy leftovers, mantou (Chinese steamed buns) usually accompany the meal.
Where to Eat the Best Chilli Crab of Your Life in Singapore
No two chilli crab recipes are identical in this city. Every chef puts their own special touch on the chilli crab they serve. You’ll find this famous crab dish in hawker centres, hip and modern dining spots and even in fine-dining Michelin Star restaurants. Exploring the different varieties of chilli crab across a diverse range of Singaporean restaurants is just part of the fun! However, as almost every seafood restaurant and zi char joint offers a chilli crab dish these days, we’re here to point you in the most delicious direction.
So don your bibs and let’s go catch some crabs…
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.
Keng Eng Kee
This humble restaurant may not look like much from the outside, but their chilli crab is so good it caught the attention of the makers of Street Food, a popular Netflix series. Of course, Singaporeans have known about Keng Eng Kee’s legendary crab long before it hit the big screen. Started by a local couple, KEK has since been handed down to their children – but the incredible flavours continue to develop. A sauce made from lime, sambal, chillis, eggs and seafood stock coat the crab and will send you into a true state of bliss. Black pepper crab, salted egg crab and claypot beehoon crab are also available to order.
Uncle Leong Seafood
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.
Proving that hawker stalls are also worthy of Michelin status, Alliance Seafood is a small eatery in Newton Food Centre that has received the Michelin Bib Gourmand Award for back-to-back years. Operating for over thirty years, the establishment is seriously iconic and you’ll find plate after plate of Singapore’s national dish being flung from the shop window daily. There is a range of seafood dishes available like crunchy cereal prawns and BBQ stingray, but we’re obviously here to talk about the chilli crab that earned them that big Bib. It’s tender, juicy and super fresh. Luckily, Alliance has tissue paper and gloves at the ready for when things inevitably become messy. Order a side of the fried mantou to soak up all that saucy goodness.
Tekong Seafood Restaurant
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.
As you can probably guess, this Singaporean seafood restaurant doesn’t hold back on delivering colossal amounts of flavour. Since opening its first joint at the East Coast Seafood Centre in 1987, Jumbo Seafood’s loyal following continues to grow exponentially. So much so, that it now has six outlets in Singapore, 3 in Shanghai and 9 others across China. But why the fuss? The crabs are some of the meatiest in the business and their award-winning dish is made better with an intoxicating sweet, spicy and sour sauce that combines over 10 Southeast Asian spices. Other live crab cooking styles include the signature black pepper crab as well as stir fried, steamed and wok baked varieties. To accommodate its gigantic reputation, Jumbo Seafood’s East Coast venue has an extensive dining area with plenty of outdoor seating looking out over the ocean.
House of Seafood
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.
Long Beach Seafood
With all the flavour and pizzazz of a Singapore hawker centre, Long Beach serves premium seafood dishes across five upmarket venues in the city. The sweet and savoury chilli crab here is truly delectable, but the restaurant is also known for other wicked plates of seafood. Long Beach is one of the original places to get a serving of the famous black pepper crab as well as an elegant and sweet white pepper live Alaskan king crab dish and golden stripe live lobster. This is where you go to discover the best of the ocean’s bounty.
It’s so much more than a plate of food.
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.