Two kinds of chili crab, fun with hor fun, and pork cutlets that get me all weepy and wistful.
I like Clarke Quay for its many-colored motley of restaurants overlooking a waterfront and the infectious verve of the people who go there. It’s stunning at night and once I have my moments just drinking in the scene, my Bin and I then stride purposefully towards the reason we are here: Jumbo Seafood Restaurant.
This place has forever altered the way I view crab ever since my first encounter with it. Blithely or ignorantly contented before with crabs steamed or drowned in a faux conglomeration of ketchup and Thai (!) chili sauce, nobody does crabs the way Jumbo Seafood does it. If you read the link included in the first part of this paragraph, there’s no need for me to repeat how strongly I feel about the chili crabs from here. It’s a Saturday night and every, every table has an order of the crustaceans, even the family of four seated uncomfortably close to us.
My Bin and I initially order two large crabs, something that unsettles our waitress. It’s perhaps her “underhandedness” that’s responsible for why our second crab order never arrives. Granted, we’re satisfactorily satiated after the first order and begin considering whether to cancel the second. Good sense? embarrassment? prevail and our follow-up with Ms. I-Know-Better proves that she pretended not to hear our order for two crabs. “I think one is enough, yes?” She tells us knowingly in that characteristic Singaporean singsong lilt as she hands us the bill. Okay, whatever. But I tell you, woman, if I’d been any hungrier…
locations in Singapore and Japan
Some meals later, my Bin and I are faced with yet another plate of chili crabs, this time from No Signboard Seafood. Countless people have told me, all agog and eyes aflutter, that this is their end-all and be-all of chili crabs. Noted.
Because of that, some part of me really, really wants to concur but my experience at said place leaves me grossly underwhelmed.
The restaurant’s website describes the popular chili crab as, “Sri Lankan crab cooked in robust chili sauce flavored with prawn paste, garlic and spices.” But my taste buds pick up a powdery dimension amidst a dominant flavor of tomato and chili. I can’t describe it any better and my dining companions are dismayed to see that I eat only half a crab claw doused in a minimal amount of sauce and one (which is unheard of) fried bun. I may come back to another No Signboard Seafood on my next Singapore trip ”“ they have plenty of outlets anyway ”“ but for now, Jumbo Seafood is far from being dethroned.
No Signboard Seafood Restaurant
Like most girls, shopping and running around a foreign city leaves me with almost no appetite. (Yes, so true). But in the rare instance that my stomach makes it known that it’s feeding time, I find myself hankering for Chinese high tea. Crystal Jade is a popular choice and its numerous locations make it an obvious choice for a quick sit-down.
Brusque efficiency characterizes this place which could be any other Chinese casual dining spot in Asia. A small bowl of peanuts, pot of hot Chinese tea, and a packaged wet towel (no, they’re not free the bill later makes me see) but the quality of food served here makes me not mind that at all. An unnatural addiction to rice noodles and taro puffs make me gravitate towards the hor fun and roasted duck soup as well as the yam puff, and on another occasion, the hor fun rolls. Hot (soup) and (lukewarm) minced pork ensconced in a taro cover revivify this shopper’s lagging spirit and aching feet. Naturally, no Chinese meal or snack is complete without those ubiquitous egg tarts. Sufficient though they are, I’ve been forever spoiled by the egg tarts from Singapore’s Tong Heng Bakery .
“How odd that one of our best meals here in Singapore isn’t Singaporean,” muses my Bin, his mouth a litter of panko crumbs. We’re at Tonkichi, a Japanese-style tonkatsu-ya. I say “Japanese-style” because Tonkichi is known as “the only Tonkatsu Specialty chain restaurant in Singapore ,” and I’m unsure whether that means it’s a local endeavor or foreign. In any case, I don’t like to assume.
- Shredded, (unlimited!) cabbage drizzled with even more of the lip-smacking tonkatsu sauce helps to cut the cloy of fried pork enabling me to eat more, more…
Tonkatsu-yas specialize in fried pork cutlets, or pork, what food writer Bill Buford might call, “The best song sung in the key of pig.” At Tonkichi, pork cutlets lovingly coated in panko and then deep-fried in the cleanest, proper-temperature oils are the star. Believe me when I say that a properly fried pork cutlet is a revelation unlike any other. The lightest, crispiest of coatings crackle under the pressure of teeth, littering everything in the vicinity ”“ mouth, shirt, plate. Then the juice of moist pork oozes quickly followed by various flavor pronouncements: the tang of the tonkatsu sauce, crunch of the white sesame seeds, and the heat of the shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice powder). I get wistful just thinking about it again.
At Tonkichi, there’s even some diner participation required. My Bin and I are each given a wooden mortar and pestle, the former made uneven by little bumps that assist in crushing the white sesame seeds. Pounded roughly or finely depending on one’s choice, just not too fine lest you want sesame paste, it’s a fun diversion while waiting for the tonkatsu that changed my life.