John and I have been to Singapore several times. Our son was an exchange student for one semester at the National University of Singapore and often ate at hawker stalls, informal street-side eateries. He said, “A hawker stall was a great place for a filling meal on a limited budget.” Over the years the hawker stalls, just like Singapore, have transformed. The eateries are now hygienic places with food prepared by licensed staff but are still considered places for a good, inexpensive meal. Food is such an integral part of the Singaporean culture that the local greeting translates as “Have you eaten?”
On our trip in February 2009 we signed up for a cooking lesson at Palate Sensations. They offer a variety of cooking lessons at various prices but we were interested in learning how to make Singapore Chili Crab, the country’s national dish. In the 1950s Madam Cher Yam Tian and her husband, Mr. Lim Choon Ngee, set up a hawker stall on the seashore. Her specialty was crab in a chili-spiked sauce. Several restaurants have replaced her stall but the recipe has survived. Today there are many versions of the dish, which combines elements of the Malay and Chinese culture that are an integral part of Singapore life. I was impressed with the concern Chef Alfie Jerome and his wife, Chef Lulu, showed for the live crabs. Chef Lulu explained, “First we place them into the freezer until they go to sleep.” Chef Alfie finished with, “Then we kill them quickly with a knife through the heart.” Besides Singapore Chili Crab, the $70 lesson including Sayur Lodeh, which is a traditionally served for breakfast at the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. For more information check www.palatesensations.com.
Singapore Chili Crab
2 fresh crabs
1/4 cup dried shrimp (optional)
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 large red chili diced
4 cloves minced garlic
1 medium onion – minced
2 tbsp chili sauce
1 tbsp sugar
salt to taste
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp corn starch mixed with ¼ cup of water
1 sprig coriander leaf
Oil for frying
Wash the crab, breaking off the claws and chop the rest of the body into pieces.
Heat oil in wok and fry crab parts until they have turned red. Put aside.
In wok fry the dried shrimp, ginger, red chili, garlic and onion.
Add chili sauce, tomato sauce, sugar, salt, soy sauce and the chicken stock.
When the stock is boiling, add in the crab.
Add cornstarch mixture and egg. Stir. Garnish with coriander.
Sayur Lodeh (Vegetable in coconut gravy)
1-1/2 Chinese cabbage cut in chunks
2 carrots – julienne
1/2 turnip – julienne
4 pieces of bean curd (tofu) – cut in triangles
15 long beans or string beans
2 pieces tempe (fermented soya beans) or more tofu
1-1/2 cups coconut milk
2 cups water
1 tsp chili powder
Blend the following in a blender:
2 tbsp chili paste
1 tsp belacan (substitute 1 tsp shrimp paste or omit)
2 large red Spanish onions
4 garlic cloves
2 stalks lemongrass
20 small dried shrimp (optional)
1 inch fresh ginger
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
Combine 1-1/2 cup coconut milk with water to form a thin coconut milk. Fry the blended spices until the oils in the paste oozes out. Add chili powder. Add coconut milk and bring to a gentle boil. Add all the vegetables and bean curd and simmer till all the vegetables are tender.
Sandra and her husband, John, are compulsive travelers and writers who have been exploring the world since the 1980s writing all the way. To see more of their travels go to www.sanscott.com. They are on the road seven months a year – half in the US and the other half exploring the rest of the world. They like to promote Slow Travel – taking time to enjoy the uniqueness of each area.