Singapore is justifiably famous for its food, and chilli crab is among the most famous dish you’ll find here. It’s a tasty, messy treat – but what do you know about its history and background? Find out below – plus where to eat it!
A fact file on Singapore chilli crab
- For the uninitiated, chilli crab is a seafood dish consisting of mud crabs deep-fried in a spicy, sweet and savoury gravy of chilli, tomato and egg.
- It’s sometimes called “Singapore’s national dish”, though that’s not an official title. (And many argue that chicken rice deserves the gong!)
- A 23-year-old woman named Cher Yam Tian invented the dish in the 1950s. Some people refer to her as “the Colonel Sanders of Singapore chilli crab”! Cher grew up near the sea in Bedok, where mangrove crabs were prevalent.
- Cher apparently stumbled upon the formula for the dish when she added bottled chilli sauce to her usual stir-fried crabs, instead of regular tomato sauce. Soon after, she opened a one-table restaurant along the Kallang River. She served crabs for $3 each.
- Her son Roland is still involved in serving delicious crab dishes today, at Roland Restaurant in Marine Parade (rolandrestaurant.com.sg).
- Most crabs that you find on your plate in Singapore today come from Sri Lanka, Burma or the Philippines.
- If you’ve not tried it, the dish is super messy to eat. Put it this way: you’ll get covered in sauce! It usually comes with some kind of bread (Cher sold hers with French loaves) or mantou (Chinese buns), which you use to mop up the remains.
- Along with the standard version, chilli crab can be found in everything from dumplings to sandwiches. You can also try the renowned chilli crab ice cream at Michelin-starred restaurant Labyrinth (restaurantlabyrinth.com).
- The Singapore Tourism Board has promoted the dish at events and festivals, including in London, New York and Dubai. It’s also rolled out for dignitaries here; during a 2021 visit by the Malaysian prime minister, it was served at the Istana.
- Back in 2011, CNN ran a feature on the world’s 50 most delicious foods. Chilli crab finished 35th, one place ahead of Texas barbecue pork, but just below Canadian maple syrup. Chicken rice came 45th.
5 places to eat Chilli Crab in Singapore
This chain has operated for 35 years after first opening in the East Coast Seafood Centre. There are five JUMBO locations in Singapore, and another handful overseas.
Like JUMBO, Long Beach is something of a household name. It’s especially known for its black pepper crab. But don’t miss the chilli crab either! There are four branches across Singapore.
Another restaurant with a long history. Madam Ong Kim Hoi opened the original hawker stall at Mattar Road Hawker Center; today, you can find it at 414 Geylang Road.
This stalwart in Ang Mo Kio (#01-1222, 232 Ang Mo Kio Avenue) not only serves a satisfying crab, it also has a comprehensive online ordering system for eating at home.
Now located in the Grand Copthorne Waterfront, Red House has a history of almost 50 years and is another popular pick for seafood dishes of all kinds, including chilli crab.
Read up on the best restaurants in Singapore!
And, for more helpful tips, head to our Living in Singapore section.