In the 1950s, Madam Cher Yam Tian who ran an eatery on Bedok Beach along Upper East Coast Road (before land reclamation), created a spicy crab dish.
She spiked the crustacean dish with sambal, and served it with crusty French bread. It eventually became a signature dish, well-loved by her regulars.
Madam Cher’s son, Roland Lim, owner of Roland Restaurant at Marine Parade Central, continues to serve this iconic speciality – a lighter, sweeter version of his mother’s original chilli crab creation. The fresh Sri Lankan chilli crab bathed in rich piquant gravy that’s well balanced and aromatic is best enjoyed with deep-fried mantou buns.
Other dishes to try at this old school restaurant include sambal mussels, fried baby squids and cockles dip with homemade chilli sauce by Madam Cher.
Insider tip: Roland Restaurant is located on the 6th floor of a non-descript car park building at Marina Parade Centre (next to FairPrice Finest supermarket). This place, although old and a little bit run-down is a must-visit if you want to taste the original Singapore chilli crab. Go there on a weeknight as it’s less crowded.
#06-750, Blk 89, Marine Parade Central
Dragon Phoenix Restaurant
The famous sweet, spicy and sour chilli crab dish that we are familiar with today was created by masterchef Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix in 1963. The crustacean which comes with a thick gravy of tomato sauce, ginger and eggs is still consistently well-executed by the kitchen team to this day.
The first Dragon Phoenix Restaurant was located along Maxwell Road. It then moved to Middle Road in the late 1960s followed by another move in 1970 to a 1000-seater in Outram Park. It relocated to Valley Point in 2006 and to its current location at Novotel Hotel Clarke Quay. Today Chef Hooi still actively oversees the kitchen. His son, Chris Hooi, who is executive director also runs the business.
Insider tip: Besides Dragon Phoenix at Liang Court, you can enjoy this chilli crab dish at The Lobby Lounge at Shangri-la Hotel. Chef Hooi shared this recipe with the kitchen team at the hotel.
Established in 1976, Red House is another restaurant famous for its crab dishes. The previous owners came up with their own rendition of chilli crab and black pepper crab.
The black pepper crab was inspired by western cooking (black pepper steak) and the chilli crab was inspired by Peranakan cuisine, hence the Red House version is always sweet and spicy (as opposed to other restaurants with a more distinct local flavour with more spice/ peanuts etc.).
Large and succulent Sri Lankan mud crabs are used to cook this dish. The sauce showcases a fusion of tangy, spicy and sweet flavours. It’s rich enough thanks to the addition of crab roe, fresh tomatoes and ribbons of egg, yet not overly cloying.
Red House originally served the chilli crab with with white bread, which they bought from bakeries. During Chinese New Year in 1988, many bakeries were closed and Red House didn’t have any bread to serve with the crabs, so they decided to offer mantou instead – which till today is the perfect complement for this dish.
Insider tip: Recommended outlets to bring out-of-town guests are the outlets at an old shophouse at Prinsep Street or Robertson Quay, by the river.
68 Prinsep Street
Hua Yu Wee
Before Singapore’s land reclamation project completed in 1970, Upper East Coast Road was the centre of Singapore’s seafood universe. Restaurants such as Red House, Spring Court and Palm Beach fronted the shore in those days. Although these restaurants were made to relocate in the late 1970s to mid 1980s, Hua Yu Wee has lingered on till today. This was thanks to its permanent permission license to continue operating there.
Here at the last remaining bungalow-style restaurant on the shady East Coast stretch, diners get to feast either in the air-conditioned dining room or at the backyard under the huge awning. The restaurant’s brigade of cooks roll out plate after plate of seafood and meat dishes in the large kitchen, located in an annex next to the car park. The chilli crab here is more spicy than others, but succulent and ultra satisfying.
Insider tip: If the weather is balmy and pleasant, sit at the back of the house under the starry sky. The sea view no longer exists but the food is the mainstay. The carpark is small and crowded, so it’s best to take a taxi there.
462 Upper East Coast Rd
The Blue Lotus signature chilli pomelo crab is one of the standout dishes of Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa, Quayside Isle. The secret is in the sauce which contains assam, chilli, ginger flower and herbs. The addition of pomelo pulp lends a refreshing tangy bite to the dish. Since the restaurant opened in 2013, over 100,000 pomelo chilli crabs have been consumed.
The special sauce is also featured in the signature chilli pomelo crab xiao long bao, chili pomelo crab udon, chilli pomelo la mian soup and crab balls with chilli pomelo sauce.
Insider tip: While the original chilli pomelo crab is only available at Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House at Sentosa, diners can still enjoy dishes that feature the chilli pomelo crab sauce at two other new outlets. Diners can tuck into xiao long bao filled with the chilli pomelo crab sauce at Chinese Noodle Bar by Blue Lotus (Science Park Drive), and chilli pomelo la mian soup at Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House (Tanjong Pagar Centre).
#01-13 Quayside Isle
If you want a more refined setting minus the crowds, head to Seafood Paradise at Level 2 of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. The restaurant’s rendition of chilli crab features a well-balanced sauce that is subtly sweet, spicy and tangy.
The gravy doesn’t overwhelm the natural taste of the succulent crab meat. The restaurant is also known for its creamy butter crab topped with coconut crumbs. The sauce contains curry leaves, white pepper, lemongrass, and chilli padi.
Insider tip: If you couldn’t be bothered cracking and peeling the crabs yourself, the service staff can do it for you. Or simply get your plastic gloves ready and dig in.
#02-03, Level 2 Dining The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands