Singapore’s famous spicy-tomatoey chili crab dish have always, as long as I remember, been cooked using those fat, luscious Sri Lankan crabs - bigger and meatier than crabs imported by Singapore from neighbouring Indonesia or Malaysia (Singapore, being an urban city-state, hardly have our own fisheries industry).
But I remembered how surprised I was back in 2011 when, at a company conference held in Singapore and attended by my colleagues from all over the Asia-Pacific region, my three visiting Sri Lankan colleagues had surprised us by saying how much they were looking forward to trying the Singapore chili crab dish, cooked using Sri Lankan crabs.
We asked them how much cheaper it would be to eat the crabs back in their land of origin, compared to Singapore, where a good-sized crab can cost up to S$100 (US$70) each. To our utter surprise, our Sri Lankan colleagues said they’d never ever tried those large crabs back in Sri Lanka, because most of those had been exported overseas to countries like Singapore.
Well, turned out, they were only partially right. The reason why they’d never tried those was because no restaurant in Sri Lanka at the time never thought of specializing in crabs, or doing something worthwhile commercially with them.
That all changed when the pioneering Sri Lankan-Japanese chef, Dharshan Munidasa, having tasted Sri Lankan chili crabs in Singapore, decided to go back home and open Ministry of Crab in Dec 2011 at the 400-year-old Old Dutch Hospital dining-and-shopping precinct in central Colombo.
Today, Ministry of Crab is a culinary landmark in Sri Lanka, and is the only restaurant in the country to make it to the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2019.
It’s a delightfully casual restaurant, with top-rated service all round by their team of friendly and very efficient wait-staff:
We ordered two large crabs - one done up as Pepper Crab and one as Garlic Chili Crab. Both crustaceans were humongous!
The restaurant is very well-equipped with all possible paraphernalia needed to dissect and enjoy those delicious crustaceans.
Pepper Crab - the crab was ultra-fresh, as expected in a restaurant which does not, as a matter of principle, maintain a freezer. The dark-meat were blended into a sinfully delicious sauce, together with native Sri Lankan black pepper which were aromatic, and pepper stock.
Garlic Chili Crab - this one bore no resemblance whatsoever to Singapore-style chili crab with its trademark tomato-ey, spicy-sweet flavours. The Sri Lankan one is a greasy, crab-with-melted-butter concoction, subversively messy but utterly delicious.
The crabs were served with fluffy, local “kade” bread, baked in a traditional Sri Lankan wood-fired oven. We also had a side-order of steamed local short-grain rice, which went very well with the rich sauces from both the crab dishes.
Absolutely delightful meal, with stellar service and lovely ambience - I’d gladly return to Colombo just to eat here again.
Ministry of Crab
Old Dutch Hospital Complex, 04 Hospital Street, Colombo 00100, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 112 342 722
Opening hours: 11.30am-3pm, 5pm-11pm daily