We are suckers for Facebook Live auctions. We’re bewitched by online fishmongers who convince us that our chosen seafood will disembark at Jurong Port and hop, skip and jump into our house bursting with fresh-off-the-boat vitality. Never mind that the reality involves you doing an autopsy on a delivery of blue swimmer crabs, determining their time of death with a deep, disconcerting sniff.
If you have a crustacean craving, forget DIY and leave it to the professionals, aka seafood restaurants. Especially if you have a fondness for the Sri Lankan variety, with the kind of claws you don’t want to tangle with on your kitchen floor.
At prices ranging from around S$80 for a 800gm to 900gm specimen, it’s a fair investment for a meal, so hedge your bets when picking an eatery that offers decent crabs and a proper seafood selection to boot.
Blue Lotus ticks all the right boxes when it comes to quality and cooking. It’s an old favourite which fell off our radar because its Sentosa location is really only conducive for those who live there or want to rent a swimming pool. But with Covid-19-induced island-wide delivery, its signature chilli crab becomes accessible again.
For a real treat, splurge on the 1kg Sri Lankan (prices start from S$81 for a 900 gm crab) bruiser with claws the size of your fist and packed with so much meat it’s the equivalent of a bodybuilder in a too-tight t-shirt. Get the signature chilli sauce with pomelo segments for a punchy, spicy thick gravy that plays off the sweet-sour-bitter fruit pulp so well. Mop up the sauce with deep fried mantou with its characteristic crunchy exterior and dense doughy inside. It’s as good as we remember it, which makes this a blast from a recent past.
A new discovery for us is the barramundi fish head, cooked in an Indian spice-infused assam curry (S$42). It turns out to be another must have for its slippery smooth combination of gelatinous cartilage and moist flesh in a tangy, vegetable-laden gravy. Deep-fried beancurd sticks are crackling good, and it’s hard to stop dunking them into the curry. Also, if you just like savoury crunchy things, check out Blue Lotus’s homemade salted egg yolk salmon skin crisps.
In comparison, the crabs at seafood stalwart Chin Huat Live Seafood are hit and miss in terms of density. It’s slightly cheaper, starting from S$71.80 for 900gm, but we end up with a big guy only in shell-size, revealing shrunken claw meat that barely fills out its armour. Crabs lose weight once they’re caught, so this might have been in the tank longer than it should have. We order it braised with noodles in superior broth, which is still enjoyable for the soft tender vermicelli that’s soaked up all the flavour of the crab in the broth while still exuding a whiff of wok hei.
As a seafood restaurant, Chin Huat does get some things right, including plump live prawns “intoxicated” in rice wine (S$30) – an ample portion of firm, sweet largish specimens that are delivered separately from its fragrant, wine-infused broth. Simply heat up the broth and combine the two. Also good is the seafood hor fun (S$16) that understandably arrives clumped up but is easily disentangled when you reheat it on the stove. The wok hei from the hor fun is still discernible and the thickened gravy with sliced fish and shrimp exudes warm, old school familiarity.
It also does a decent orh nee (S$4) or sweet yam paste, which arrives with a separate container of pumpkin puree and coconut milk for you to mix together for a smooth ending. It’s a pretty stingy amount of yam, so maybe add a few portions for good measure. But they also throw in a free jellied hasma dessert when you spend over S$99, which is a nice surprise. It’s a refreshing light cheng tng-like syrup with lots of jellied bits and hasma.
While we enjoy the in-your-face robustness of Blue Lotus’s chilli crab gravy, we also like the classic, tomato-based gravy in Jing Seafood‘s version, which is lighter and cleaner in flavour. At S$88 for a 900gm crab, it’s not as meaty as Blue Lotus’s, although it’s good in its own right. Cooking style makes a big difference, incidentally, so go with Jing’s signature chilli or white pepper crab if you’re going to splurge. There’s also a black pepper alternative which is dry and doesn’t make much of an impression.
For fried salmon skin fans, Jing does a good crunchy snack but without the salted egg yolk coating. Instead, there’s a fruity, sweetish dip that’s slightly odd but it works.
We might try going back to Facebook Live to try and bag a few good mud crabs next time, but when we think about it, maybe we’ll just save our pennies until we can splurge on our favourite body building Sri Lankan in its too-tight t-shirt shell.
Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House, 31 Ocean Way, #01-13 Quayside Isle.
Visit bluelotus.com or call 6339 0880.
Chin Huat Live Seafood Restaurant: Block 105 Clementi Street 12, Sunset Way, 01-30.
Visit chinhuatliveseafood.sg or call 6775-7348.
Jing Seafood: 1 Fullerton.
Visit jing.com.sg or call 6224 0088.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.