Today here in Austin it's sunny and cool, a perfect Southern winter day. But I would chuck this glorious day and its eye-piercing brightness in a moment for Singapore's humidity and heat, if it meant I could stuff my face with crab.
Perhaps Singapore's most famous dish, chili crab (or pepper crab) can be found at any number of outlets around town, from the down and divey to the fancy shmancy. We tried the crab at Eng Seng, a metro ride and short walk away from where we were staying.
Eng Seng is famous, and we had to wait a bit before seating. It's also an early dinner kind of place; if you get there much after 7, don't expect there to necessarily be any crab left! So eat a light lunch and getcher butt down there.
You'll want some starch to go with that crab (the Singaporean version of "fries with that shake", perhaps?), at least if you're us. Enter the Mee Goreng. Hello there, fried noodles! And yes, those are greens in the back. Have I ever mentioned how much I love a quick wok-tossed Chinese-style green veg?
And then the star of the show, the pepper crab. Eng Seng, like many places, has a minimum order of two crabs, and these mud-crabs are quite large, almost ridiculously meaty, and not exactly cheap. Thus, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision between chili or pepper. After a bit of a wait, during which we covertly eyed nearby tables to familiarize ourselves with local crab-eating customs, this fantastic platter was set down before us.
Luckily, the crab comes efficiently and thoroughly cracked for you, but still be prepared to stickify your hands and face trying to get at the choicest bits.
The crab itself is plumply sweet and salty. The sauce is a sugar and spice amalgam that plays up the nose-tingling floral notes in the pepper; like crushed violets, nettles, and pine. It took us awhile to eat because we found ourselves licking the little bits of shell clean after hollowing out all the non-crunchy bits. It was time well spent.
(Logan with the crab platter, for scale.)
We left Eng Seng just as they ran out of crabs. Dodged a bullet!
Across the street from Eng Seng, there was a little durian joint. We wandered in, because I'm always interested to learn more about this, well, polarizing fruit.
They had a selection of durian sorted by sweetness level, something I'd not seen before! We had to try one, so we got a medium-sweet. They cracked it open for us right there and handed us plastic forks.
So, I'm still not completely sold on durian (though I think Logan is!), but places like this could change my mind. The flavor is mild, but the scent can be overpowering and not immediately appealing to people who aren't used to it. I think of the flavor and texture as being much closer to a strong cheese than any kind of fruit I grew up with.
Too bad neither of these places deliver. Of course, I'm pretty sure the 9800-mile journey wouldn't do either of them any favors!
Eng Seng is at 241 Joo Chiat Pl, Singapore 427932. Phone +65 6440 5560.