I tell you who doesn’t like chilli crabs. Me. The mention of it sends shivers down my spine, with images of starchy, sweet, boring ol’ chilli crabs flashing across my eyes. I don’t know when the benchmark for good crabs became the chilli crab, but it has ruined what it meant to sell a good crab. A good crab is not simply one that is draped in a ubiquitous sweet sauce, where all people end up judging is the quality of the sauce, and the amount of meat the crab has.
When my dad said he wanted to treat some visitors from Japan to wonderful crab dinner, I grimaced.
Located below a HDB block at Tampines, JE Crab Specialist is essentially a zi char stall that has an added wow factor of selling ‘artisan’ crabs. Dungeness crabs, alaskan king crabs, sri lankan crabs, snow crabs, oh you name it.
Live Canadian Oysters ($10+ each)
These were pre-ordered by my dad when calling to make the reservation. Yes they are actually that huge. 12 huge oysters, and only 4 at the table take oysters, which wouldn’t have been a problem if they were fresh and delicious. Unfortunately according to those who ate, they weren’t. More accurately they were inconsistent. Some pieces were fresh, sweet and succulent, while others were spat out with disgust. At $10 each they were definitely not worth it.
Fish Maw Soup ($30+ for the large portion)
Tasting mediocre, the massive amounts of starch causing little lumps here and there were unimpressive and a total turn off.
Prawn Paste Chicken ($12+ for the medium portion)
More commonly known as har cheong gai, the chicken wings were surprisingly nice. It wasn’t overly oily, and the crisp chicken skin screamed decadence while the meat remained moist and tender.
Fried Baby Squid ($12+ for the medium portion)
These were delicious and well executed. A favourite of the night. I couldn’t stop popping one after another into my mouth!
Fried Cereal Prawns ($20+ for the medium portion)
What I liked was that the prawns were really big and fresh. The cereal was extremely tasty too. My only quabble would be that it was a tad too oily and shelling them were an utter chore.
Baby Cabbage sautéed with garlic ($16+ for the large portion); Spinach poached in stock ($16+ for the large portion)
Ordering plain garlic/sautéed vegetables is never a wise choice because they are always overpriced. However JE Crab Specialist surprised me when they dished out 2 of the best sautéed vegetables I’ve had in both Chinese zi char restaurants and top notch restaurants. It’s a simple dish, but they nailed it where many failed.
Next came the star dishes of the meal. When reservations were made, we were pre-allocated 2 crabs for a table of 9 which were a dungeness crab and the sri lankan crab. If you have a specific crab of your preference, it would be good to let them know over the phone. Our guests later highlighted that they loved alaskan king crabs, so we ordered a third crab. Prices are charged according to the weight and type of crab ordered regardless of your chosen preparation/cooking method. I was a little annoyed when ordering because the lady boss suggested the chilli crab preparation for every crab! Stubborn me stood firm and insisted we would have no chilli crabs that night, and the lady boss became really unhelpful after that. Technically different preparation methods would suit different kinds of crabs as it would highlight its unique characteristics, for example the sweetness of its flesh, the size, or the meatiness. However every preparation method we suggested was all “very nice very nice, ok ah” for every single crab apparently.
Sri Lankan Crab: prepared in a claypot and served with bee hoon ($80+ for about 1.5kg)
Every component of this dish was well prepared and absolutely delicious. The bee hoon was served separately and that prevented it from being too soggy from steeping in the soup. The soup was delicious, with the flavoursome crab stock coming through, followed by a lingering fragrance of Chinese wine (hua tiao jiu I believe). The crab itself was very meaty, fresh and sweet. Most importantly it was big enough for almost everyone to have 2 servings.
Dungeness Crab: steamed with egg whites ($75+ for about 1.3kg)
This is my kinda crab. Simply steaming with hua tiao jiu and egg whites brought the natural sweetness of the crab into the limelight. Similar to the Sri Lankan Crab, this crab was very meaty and sweet. The steamed egg whites kept the whole dish light and pleasant.
Alaskan King Crab: fried with black pepper ($420+; $168/kg)
Carrying that hefty price tag, my expectations of this crab was set real high. The dish superceded my expectations. Weighing over 2kg, this crab was really big. As meaty and sweet as the previous crab dishes what stood out for this was the delicious black pepper sauce that accompanied it. Most black pepper crabs are simply spicy and peppery, but JE Crab Specialist’s managed to balance the fine line between savoury and sweet. It is the best black pepper sauce I’ve tried thus far. If you do make a trip here, any crab prepared with black pepper sauce is a must. Out of the three crabs, this was the easiest to shell and thus the best for kids to eat. It was extremely meaty around all the leg sections, and all we had to do was stick a chopstick, push lightly and the flesh would emerge from the other end of the shell.
On hindsight we should have gotten the Sri Lankan Crab to be prepared in the black pepper sauce and the Alaskan King Crab to be steamed. That would allow the quality of the Alaskan King Crab to come through, and thus justify the steep price.
After this meal I can safely conclude that I love crabs. I just don’t like chilli crabs. As a zi char stall specialising in seafood and crabs, JE Crab Specialist definitely outshines most of the other crab restaurants I’ve tried in terms of the quality of the sauces, the meatiness and sweetness of the crabs, and most importantly the variety of seafood and crabs offered.
Take note though that you’d have to bring lots of wet tissues along. It’s surprising they do not offer bowls of lemon and water for you to rinse your hands in, and they charge you for every single wet towel. “Take take take! Here got a lot for you to use!” said the lady boss. Our wet tissue bill amounted to $7.20+.
JE Crab Specialist (Tampines)
Block 107 Tampines Street 11