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Singapore’s Signature Dish – The Chili Crab

Singapore is all about the food for us. As foodies, looking to find the best ways to eat, we loved the all the varieties of Asian food at the Hawker Stalls, and we love the variety of restaurants and cafes that are abundant all over the city, but we still had the iconic chili crab to try.  Devon was leaving and we only had a few hours left, so it was time.

On my first trip to the city, I had tried and loved the chili crab on a boat restaurant in Clark’s Quay, but this time we stopped at a restaurant in the airport called Seafood Paradise. When we got there we were handed a huge menu of pictures and quickly discovered that not only could we try the traditional chili crab, but they had another item that sounded even more delicious, more decadent…the butter crab!

Chili Crab Singapore

We ordered one of each for the three of us to share.  They came swimming in a bowl full of gravy goodness, and had to order a bunch of dinner rolls (mantou) to slop it up! Now, how and why did this dish become the signature food of Singapore?  It’s not too hard to figure out when you take a look at the little bit of tropical land, and all the mangrove forests that line the water.

Singapore Chili Crab

What lives in these swampy areas, mud crabs, lots of mud crabs! So how does this brown, territorial crustacean get transformed into something that all Singaporeans crave?  After collected, he is deep-fried once to cook, and then deep-fried again in the gravy.

Singapore Chili Crab

The original dish is accredited to Cher Yam Tian who was the first to add a tangy chili sauce to her stir-fried crabs sometime in 1950. Prior to adding the chilis to the sauce, most Singaporeans just boiled up the crabs and ate them plain, then added a mild and very sweet tomato sauce.  Cher Yam Tian started selling them with the chili infused, and her push-cart became an instant hit

Singapore Chili Crab

If you are interested in trying to make chili crab on your own, you might want to check out the recipe here. Chili or butter or black pepper crabs are so popular that they have found their way into other dishes as well.  There are chips, and the very first night we got to try an overpriced chili crab hot dog.  It was interesting!

Have you been to Singapore and tried chili crab?  Tell us all about your experience in the comment section!

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.


Monday 31st of March 2014

Looks yummy! Yum yum :)

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 1st of April 2014

It truly is, Ben!

Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

Saturday 29th of March 2014

I LOVE Chili Crab, although I discovered that I don't like The Chili Crab flavored Lay's potato chips I bought in Thailand. We dine at Jumbo Seafood whenever we're in Singapore. This week, we'll be about an hour away from the city, and my girl claims that a 2 hour roundtrip is just fine for dinner there.

Corinne Vail

Sunday 30th of March 2014

Michele, That's when you know the restaurant is really good, when you are willing to go out of your way to eat there! I haven't tried those chips...hmmm.


Wednesday 26th of March 2014

I have been to SIngapore so many times but never tried that! It's on my list - looks delicious! Btw just followed you on Twitter as well - great travel blog you have :) Looking forward to connect!

Corinne Vail

Thursday 27th of March 2014

Hi Mighty Travels! Thanks for connecting. Singapore is an awesome city to travel through and around. Do try the chili crab next time!

Rachel M

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

Looks delicious, something I should definitely try.

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 26th of March 2014

Oh Rachel, I can certainly recommend it!

budget jan

Tuesday 25th of March 2014

No Corinne we haven't, but we have had crab with peppercorns in Kep Cambodia. It is done the same way in a sweet/hot sauce. Very tasty and very messy :)

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 25th of March 2014

Jan, That sounds good, too. I don't think Cambodia food really sticks out in my mind, but if I go back I'll have to try it.