The Art of Eating Crab In Singapore: 4 Steps To Ordering Like a Local

by Ling Xin Sia

The seafood culture in Singapore is such a big deal that restaurants there have been known to fight over who invented which dish. Seafood lovers also break into camps that staunchly defend their favorite cooking style or restaurant.

An entire crab steamed to perfection and drowning in a delicious vinegar sauce.
An entire crab steamed to perfection and drowning in a delicious vinegar sauce. Photo Courtesy of Ling Xin

While Singapore imports most of its food, you’re guaranteed an uber-fresh catch on your table because reputable restaurants keep all their seafood alive in tanks until you order your dish. The city state also enforces high standards of hygiene in the kitchen, so don’t worry about eating seafood that will give you the dreaded “traveler’s diarrhea.” Also, instead of puny creatures that nearby Southeast Asian seafood places sometimes serve, restaurants in Singapore import large, meaty crabs that make for a very satisfying meal.

Step 1: Choose Your Crab

When ordering a crab, one of Singapore’s most popular dishes, you’ll be asked what size of crab you want. The minimum is a little over 2 pounds. This is a good size to start with because you can still order more dishes and try a variety of items. You may also request the gender you prefer. Female crabs come with creamy roe, but males are known to pack more flesh in their pinchers. 

The server will then ask the kitchen hand to scoop a crab, fish, or prawn that fits the profile you wanted, and a while later, deliver it steaming hot and delicious to your table.

Step 2: Choose a Cooking Style

Chilli Crab. While this dish may sound daunting, it can be tailored to a spice level that suits your taste buds. The sauce for the chilli crab is typically a mix of chilli sauce, tomato sauce, and egg to thicken it and give it a gooey, stringy texture. When ordering, just ask for “less spicy” or a tomato-only version if you absolutely cannot handle spicy food. It’s more important to enjoy the dish than to have it at an “authentic” spice level. The ideal sauce should pack a little kick and maybe make you break out in a small sweat, but never be unbearably hot.

Pepper Crab. There are black or white pepper versions, but most Singaporeans opt for the former. This crab is served dry, with hardly any sauce, but the sweet, juicy flesh of the crab sharply contrasts the tangy pepper coating, and that’s all you need. This dish tends to be really spicy, so don’t order both this and the chilli together unless you’re a spice expert like most Singaporeans who grew up requesting chilli in their food.

Salted Egg Yolk Crab. It’s as sinful and delicious as it sounds. Crab is fried in a mix of salted egg yolk, curry, chilli, milk, and pepper. The result is sweet crab coated with thick, grainy yolk. The bite of curry means you don’t get sick of it too quickly. This dish is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Steamed Crab with Egg & Vinegar. A classically Chinese dish, it tastes clean, clear, and is very easy to eat. It is a great first dish to start any meal because it leaves the palate fresh. It can be a very elegant and mature dish, for those with discerning taste buds. This dish displays the beauty of super-fresh seafood. While it isn’t as adventurous as the above three, the simplicity of the cooking method is ideal for those who are trying to watch what they eat.

Step 3: Taste the Additions

Drunken Prawns. The broth of this dish, prawns cooked with Chinese wine and garlic, is so rich and flavorful you have to slurp every last drop down when peeling the prawns and sucking on the shells. Again, this is a dish that requires the freshest of seafood. It’s a hot favorite amongst Singaporeans, and rightfully so.

Bright Golden Pillows. Or simply, fried buns. These crispy, greasy little nuggets are used to soak up the gravy from chilli crab, but also act as a stabiliser for a tongue gone rogue after tasting too many spices. They’re sweet, soft, and sinful. Kids would absolutely adore them as a snack on their own. Order at least two for each person at the table.

Sambal Kang Kong. Don’t forget your veggies! Kang Kong (water spinach) is fried with a spicy condiment called sambal, which is typically made from chilli, prawns, garlic, and fish sauce. This dish may look innocuous but packs a huge kick. The soft strands of the spinach leaves, crunchy stalks, and grainy sambal all together elevates the simple vegetable to a mind blowing dish.

Mango Pudding. Finish off the meal with a mango pudding served at many seafood restaurants. It’s creamy and has just a tinge of sourness to wake you up after a huge meal.

Step 4: Repeat

Since crab is such an integral part of the Singaporean diet, be sure to try it time and time again. It won’t take long to find your favorite style and side dishes so you’ll be ordering like a local in no time.