On my sister Karen’s recommendation, I had a dish called ‘Singapore-style chilli crab’ on my second night in Singapore. I knew that I was eating a large crab smothered in a thick tomato sauce, but I had to check Wikipedia to confirm that traditional Singapore chilli crab consists of mud crabs that are “stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli based sauce.” The sauce is described as “sensuous” and “sweet, yet savoury”, with a “fluffy texture.” I can tell you that it was love at first bite/slurp/splash.
My brother-in-law Al had passed along the phone number of a woman named Dolly Chua. Dolly and Al had worked together in Singapore in the early 1980s and back then Dolly was a trusted source for dining tips. She’s had 30 years to refine her list of Singapore’s hidden gems, so I took Al’s advice and gave her a call on the morning of Saturday #45.
When I told her that I’d eaten at hawker stalls at least once a day for nine days, Dolly replied, “Well, that’s Singapore.”
We made small talk for a few minutes before I got to the point; I’m looking for Singapore’s best chilli crab. It doesn’t matter if it’s a fancy restaurant or a hawker stall, or what part of the city it’s in; if she has a recommendation, I’ll find it.
Without hesitation Dolly told me to take the MRT (subway) to Khatib station. It would be best if I was there around 6:45. I asked why the time was important. She replied, “Because we’re picking you up and you’re coming with us. It’s a pre-Mother’s Day celebration and we just so happen to be going to the restaurant with the best chilli crab. So, 6:45 at the passenger pickup zone at Khatib, okay?”
I protested, saying that I wasn’t really dressed for fine dining. She wouldn’t hear of it. “You’ll be fine in shorts and a t-shirt.” What else could I do?
Dolly’s husband Patrick and one of their two sons-in-law met me outside the the subway station. Fifteen minutes later we surrendered the car to the valet attendant at the front door of a place called Famous Kitchen. I didn’t have to see the menu to know that this was a pretty classy joint.
The rest of Dolly’s extended family was already seated when we arrived. Patrick ordered a few jugs of beer. I don’t recall anyone ordering anything off the menu, or even seeing a menu for that matter, so I presume the food had been ordered in advance. At any rate the food started appearing at the table within a few minutes, and it continued at the rate of a different dish every 20 minutes for the next three hours.
The Famous Kitchen version of chilli crab was every bit as good as what I had on Outram Road, but there was much more of it in this serving, and the sauce seemed a bit richer. And man was there a lot of sauce! One thing I didn’t get with my virgin experience with chilli crab was steamed buns for dipping. I watched as Patrick broke a tiny bun in half and used the exposed doughy part to sop up the rich sauce. He didn’t have to demonstrate that a second time.
Dolly’s favourite dish appeared to be the raw chilli cockles. They were packing some heat but far from overwhelming. If you want a meal of chilli cockles, you’d probably order about 50 as they’re pretty small. But who would want them as a meal when all of the other dishes are available?
One dish that has to be pre-ordered at the Famous Kitchen is the house specialty beef ribs. There was enough meat on one rib for at least three people, so one went a long way with everything else that kept showing up at the table.
In addition to the seafood and ribs we also had a serving of braised large pork intestines, a platter of Kai-lan with oyster sauce (also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale), KL (Malaysian) noodles, and a large platter of Fish Soon Hock (steamed grouper served with the head on).
There were many questions about where I’ve been and where I’m going. Someone asked if I was keeping a blog. When I mentioned that I blog about what I do every Saturday, Dolly explained that her family gets together every Saturday night for a family dinner. They sometimes go to a casual restaurant, other times they eat at home, but every Saturday night Dolly and Patrick get together with their twin daughters, the two sons-in-law, and all the grandchildren. At one time they tried to get together once a week but on a random day. That proved unworkable so they switched to Saturdays and now everyone knows not to book anything on a Saturday. As one daughter explained, “If you miss a Saturday dinner you had better have a damn good excuse.” I like this family!
When it was time to go, the bill had somehow been paid without me noticing. I told the Chuas that I owe them a meal and I intend to make good on it. I know that I’ll be in Bangkok in February or March and if I’m that close, what’s another 1400 km train ride if there’s Singapore-style chilli crab on this end?
Once again, thank-you so much, Dolly and Patrick.