Last Updated: September 10, 2019
When we talk about local Singaporean delights, chilli crab is definitely at the top of the list. I am sure many Singaporeans out there will come to a consensus that chilli crab is one of Singapore’s pride and glory.
Pasir Panjang Food Centre is no stranger to the chilli crab scene in Singapore either. In the day, the market opens for local hawker delights; at night, the zi char stalls come to life. Without a doubt, chilli crab is a must-have dish at any zi char stall.
I decided to try out two stalls that sell chilli crab at Pasir Panjang Food Centre. Based on the criteria of price, the origin of the crab, sauce, mantou and how viscous the sauce is, I hope to arrive at a conclusion as to which stall serves a better chilli crab.
Introducing our two contenders, Hua Kee Seafood and Alan Banana Leaves B.B.Q Seafood!
A little backstory into Hua Kee Seafood—this stall has been in operation for 38 years, and is a family business. I interviewed the boss, Mr Khu, who took over the reins from his father.
“It did not use to sell zi char; it was originally a local food joint that just sold rojak and other local delights like satay. My father saw the potential in a zi char stall, and that was how it all started”, Mr Khu explained.
Alan Banana Leaves B.B.Q Seafood is also another family business. Mr Elvin Chong took over the family business from his father, Mr Alan Chong. The stall has been around for over 20 years, and to date, is still popular for barbecued seafood dishes.
Mr Alan Chong did not sell zi char initially either. He started out with satay, but decided to turn the business up a notch and sell zi char.
Now that there is a little introduction to both stalls, it’s time to get down to business with a thorough comparison of both stalls’ chilli crab.
As mentioned, the five criteria for this comparison comes down to the price, the origin of the crab, its sauce, mantou and how viscous the sauce is. Now, let the feasting begin!
Our first contender, Hua Kee Seafood, presents a chilli crab dish served with an Indonesian crab and a side of white bread. Unfortunately, Hua Kee Seafood does not serve mantou.
At first glance, the sauce was more fluid than most chilli crab dishes we see. It was also of a darker orange colour. Mr Khu said that unlike the usual chilli crab sauce that is tomato-based, his chilli crab sauce has absolutely no tomatoes.
I guess that explains the darker orange colour. The sauce was packed with chilli and spices, yet it was perfectly balanced. It was neither too spicy nor too herbaceous. It even had a hint of garlic in the sauce which I approve of!
To explain what the sauce tasted like, just imagine the heat that spicy tapioca chips carry (much like the ones shown here!). The sauce tasted exactly like this if I am being brutally honest.
Soaking the bread in the sauce is a must when it comes to a chilli crab dish. If I had the options of mantou, I will always go for mantou. I asked Mr Khu why he doesn’t sell mantou since its a classic pairing with chilli crab.
“Honestly, we used to be short-handed, so we only provided white bread. To compensate for the lack of mantou, we do not charge for the bread. Even when there was more manpower, the tradition of serving white bread had already begun, so we decided not to change it”, he clarified.
Taking a closer look at the crab, you will realise the size of the crab isn’t very large. Due to the poor weather conditions in Indonesia, the yield of crabs are not up to the fisherman’s standard. As a result, they do not sell low-quality crabs to the zi char stall owners.
We all know the crown jewel of a crab is its pincer. The pincer of the crab dish from Hua Kee Seafood was presented beautifully. Breaking it out of the shell was the hard part. The excitement level for the dish dropped slightly when it was clear that the crab was not as fresh as one would expect.
If you are not a crab connoisseur, here is a little pro-tip for you! If a crab is fresh, you will be able to remove the meat from the shell with ease.
One often avoids the shell because it is known to contain high amounts of cholesterol. The shell of the crab usually gives away the gender of the crab. If it is a female crab, there would be an abundance of roe while if it is a male crab, well, there wouldn’t be any!
In our case, we were lucky enough to receive a female crab. Despite the earlier disappointment, the shell was the saving grace of the dish. Packed with roe, the entire crab dish was suddenly elevated. The roe was creamy, and when mixed with the delectable chilli crab sauce, it felt like I was instantly teleported to crab heaven.
Here’s another handy tip for you: if you order a bowl of white rice, just put half the portion inside the shell and mix it in!
Now, before I wrap up on Hua Kee Seafood, let us not forget the crab’s legs. Did you know a crab has 10 legs (we bet you’ve never taken the time to count)? Including the two frontal claws, also known as pincers, the remaining eight are used for walking. But why do we only notice six in every dish? That is because the last pair of legs, known as the anomuran legs, are hidden inside the shell.
The legs of this crab were fleshy and juicy, which is unheard of for an Indonesian crab. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. The best way to eat a crab leg is to suck the juices out of the knuckle and crack the legs with your teeth. I learnt this technique from my father actually, who I give credit to for imparting his knowledge of crab-eating to me. Thanks, Dad!
Overall, I was immensely satisfied with Hua Kee Seafood chilli crab dish.
After breaking down Hua Kee Seafood, here is our second contender, Alan Banana Leaves B.B.Q Seafood! When I found out that Alan Seafood served mantou, I was stoked. Clearly, I was more excited about the side dish.
As compared to Hua Kee Seafood, Alan Seafood seemed to have more greenery on their plate. Piled with cabbage and topped off with coriander, this dish seemed to be a lot healthier than the other. This was also an Indonesian crab. Did both stalls get their crab from the same supplier? It seemed curious, but that is a question that I guess I will never know the answer to.
The sauce of this dish was a lot more viscous than the crab dish from Hua Kee Seafood. Clearly, it had more egg in the sauce which explains why the sauce was of such a thick consistency. I did not mind it, but for those who love to drench their sides with sauce, this sauce may be slightly too gao for you.
It had a hint of tomato in the taste, which is what you will expect of a typical chilli crab sauce. Unlike the former dish, this version seemed more ordinary.
Let me indulge you in the mantou. As a massive mantou fanatic, mantou tasted extraordinary. I guess it was due to the deprivation of mantou from Hua Kee Seafood. Paired with the chilli crab sauce, I felt like this was already the highlight of my evening. Remember, I was only basing this from the mantou.
Cracking the pincer was easier than cracking my knuckles. Not sure what I mean? It means this crab was fresh. The pincer was juicy, yet tough; it tasted confusing. How could a crab be fresh, yet have such tough meat? Doing some research, I realised that some crab farms in Indonesia intentionally fatten their crabs in order for it to have more meat. As such, it may compromise the taste of the crab.
The shell of this crab was also seemingly barren. It was clear that it was female crab as there were bits of roe spotted in the shell, but not enough for me to give a fair rating.
The legs of this crab were flat and had little to no meat in them. It was not a welcoming observation, but I still enjoyed myself nonetheless.
Shall we analyse both stalls? Both stalls are run by second-generation hawkers who inherited the family business from their fathers. With an experience for at least 20 years between both stalls, I expected nothing less but top quality from both parties.
The crabs were of Indonesian origin, but as explained earlier due to the unfortunate weather, they were unable to serve Sri Lankan Crab, which is typically the crab used in local chilli crab dishes.
The most important part was price point. Hua Kee Seafood’s Chilli Crab was priced at S$57, while Alan Banana Leaves B.B.Q Seafood’s Chilli Crab was priced at S$42. Of course, these prices differ daily, according to the fluctuating market price, and dependent on the crab’s weight.
The chilli crab sauce of Hua Kee Seafood’s Chilli Crab was spicier and had a garlicky taste which was something unique about this dish, while the sauce from Alan Seafood has a sweeter tone with a tomato aftertaste. The viscosity of the Chilli Crab sauce was undoubtedly enhanced in Alan Seafood, while the sauce at Hua Kee Seafood was more watered down. Then again, if you love a thick Chilli Crab sauce, go for Alan Seafood, and Hua Kee Seafood if you prefer the latter taste.
Alan Seafood certainly won the mantou department. There was no competition as Hua Kee Seafood did not offer it.
I have analysed both stalls thoroughly. The time for the verdict has arrived, and the winner for me is Hua Kee Seafood!
Now, taste, I understand, is a very subjective thing. I much prefer a spicier and watery sauce as compared to a sweet and thick sauce. I especially fancied the legs and the roe found in its shell. The quality Indonesian crabs definitely differ from a Sri Lankan crab, so when it comes to chilli crab, a Sri Lankan crab will always trump, in my books.
This was definitely a wonderful crab experience. Do you agree with my verdict? What other dishes you would love to see on our Food Showdown series?
Hua Kee Seafood: 121 Pasir Panjang Road, Pasir Panjang Food Centre, #01-10/11/12, Singapore 118543 | Tel: +65 6474 9142 | Opening Hours: 4pm – 12am (Wed to Mon), Closed on Tues | Facebook
Alan Banana Leaves B.B.Q Seafood: 121 Pasir Panjang Road, Pasir Panjang Food Centre, #01-24, Singapore 118543 | Tel: +65 9438 6623 | Opening Hours: 11am – 9.30pm (Tues to Sun), Closed on Mon