The 5 best things I ate in Singapore — #1: Black Pepper and Chilli Crab

In this monthly series, I’m counting down the top five things I ate in Singapore. For previous posts, check out number 2number 3number 4, and number 5.

The countdown is over — time to reveal my absolute favorite thing to eat in Singapore:

Mattar Road Seafood, Singapore | Expat Edna

#1: Black Pepper Crab, Long Beach Seafood // Chilli crab, Mattar Road Seafood 

This. Of all the things to do and see and eat in Singapore, one cannot leave the country without having tasted this:

Black pepper crab, Singapore | Expat Edna

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog for more than two seconds knows I eat a lot — and of everything I ate in Singapore during my year and a half there, THIS is my absolute favorite.

Black pepper crab. Savory seafood from the heavens, featuring crabs the size of your face (you think I’m joking, that’s not a hyperbole) with claws that could take someone’s eye out if you’re not careful.

Black pepper crab, Singapore | Expat Edna

I’m talking crabs so huge, they could probably beat up a toddler.

Crabs so monstrous, if I ever encountered one of these on a beach in real life and not behind a restaurant fish tank, I’d run away screaming like a deranged goat.

But served up on a plate and slathered in a dry black and white pepper sauce? That’s pure happiness.

Black pepper crab, Singapore | Expat Edna

While black pepper crab is my personal favorite, it lies slightly in the shadow of the more iconic Singaporean chilli crab. 

Considered an unofficial national dish of Singapore, chilli crabs are far messier than the black pepper variation thanks to the thick sweet-and-savory, tomato-based sauce in which it’s slathered. Egg is also added for thickness, which adds a nice heaviness that makes the sauce perfect for dipping into with fried mantou (buns).

Chilli crab, Singapore | Expat Edna

As for these mantou — you’ll definitely want to order extra to mop up the sauce after you’ve devoured the crab.

Some even say the buns are the highlight of going out for chilli crab (though I think those people prefer it because there’s less work involved. I suspect they’re the same folks who think the crust is the best part of a pizza).

Mantou buns, Singapore | Expat Edna

Unlike noodles or dumplings, which you can find decent variations of in other countries, black pepper and chilli crab are the kind of classic you really can’t get anywhere else. I know people who’d come to Singapore on two-day business trips and they’d still make time to get their chilli crab fix.

Edna's 22nd birthday dinner in Singapore | Expat Edna

My ideal birthday dinner.

When I lived in Singapore, I gathered my friends for chilli crab as my birthday dinner; the night before I left for good, I made sure black pepper crab was the last thing I ate — my taste buds’ last memory of Singapore.

And when I went back for the holidays last year, black pepper and chilli crab were both my first and last meal of the visit. I’m obsessed. It’s that good.

The crabs in Singapore are best shared with friends, and it’s expensive enough to be a treat (I once had a couchsurfer take us out for chilli crab as a thank you at the end of his stay) while also not so expensive that you can’t indulge a craving now and again.

Chilli crab, Singapore | Expat Edna

They say crab isn’t a first date meal.

But the first time I ever met my boyfriend’s parents, we took them out for chilli crab.

Because here’s a tip: it’s so much easier to relax over a plate of sauce-drenched crabs.

There are absolutely no pretenses when you and your future-in-laws are all gathered round a table smashing crab legs with your hands, fingers dripping with sauce, and at least one person at the table has splashback on their shirt and/or is wearing a bib.

To me, that’s a perfect first impression meal. I knew boyfriend’s parents and I would get along just fine after that.

Practical Info

Mattar Road Hawker Center dinner, Singapore by Expat Edna

  • For the best black pepper crab, head to Long Beach Seafood (multiple locations in Singapore).
  • In my opinion, the best crab (white pepper or chilli) is at Mattar Road Seafood, stall #01-63 at Old Airport Road Hawker Center. It’s also the cheapest you’ll find for such high quality (roughly $35-40 per kilo).
  • If you’re really on a budget, most hawker centers will have chilli crab for a cheaper price, but the crabs tend to be smaller and less meaty, and the sauce isn’t memorable.
  • If you have company to impress, for good chilli crab not in a hawker center go to Jumbo Seafood (multiple locations in Singapore). Prepare to pay for it, though.
  • If you are at a hawker center, here’s what you do: while you wait for your crabs, have each person go to a different stall and order up fried vegetables, satay, and stingray (I’m not kidding. don’t skip out on the stingray). Reconvene at your table, spread out your bounty, wait for the crabs, crack open the beers and bam, you have yourself a hell of an awesome feast.

And that’s a wrap for the 5 Best Things I Ate in Singapore! Questions, comments? Leave them below.

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  1. I have no idea why I pretended like I didn’t know that this would take the #1 slot. I mean, obviously! I’m so glad Tony & I went out of our way and splurged to try the chili crab on our last night in Singapore—it was one of those epic meals that I will never forget and definitely one of the best things I have ever eaten. Ever! I dream of the days when I am sufficiently lux that I can splash out on a flight to Singapore just to eat this dish…

    Next time: black pepper crab!

    • Silly Steph, of course it was going to be number one. I’m glad you guys got to try chilli crab — it’s so good it just haunts you doesn’t it?

  2. Oh my god, this looks like something I would love to eat! And I definitely see why this is the ideal meal if you really want to get to know someone! :)


  3. Ah I’ve been wondering what #1 is and I’m pretty sure I need to go to Singapore now solely to eat this crab. YUM!

    • DO IT. I’m sure flights from Germany aren’t that expensive…cough…

  4. Alecia says:

    I miss the black pepper crab (and food in Singapore generally) so much! Yum!

    • Me too, man. I miss a lot about Singapore — we had some good times out there!

  5. My mouth is literally watering. I’m obsessed with both pepper and crabs so this will probably be the best thing ever.

    • Good, because if you go to Singapore and don’t eat the crab I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.

  6. I’m probably going to go to Singapore specifically to eat this dish, and no meal will fully satisfy me until that happens.

    • That’s the spirit. And hey, Australia isn’t that far from Singapore…

  7. I’ve always felt that sushi, much like your chili crab would make a good first date meal: if you can deal with the sight of looking like goldfish while stuffing your face with fish, the two of you will do just fine. Or maybe it’s just me that can’t eat sushi and look graceful!

    • Hahaha I totally know what you mean. Especially the ones that are that awkward size where you don’t know if you should bite the sushi in half, or stuff it into your mouth and look like a chipmunk?

  8. So glad I’m reading this while eating lunch. I NEED to go to Singapore to eat this & you should come with!

  9. In a strange from of reversal, I’m a Singaporean studying abroad right now, and this series makes me want to home so bad and feast on the delicacies which I may have taken for granted when I was back home.

    • You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, right? I’ve had a couple Singaporean friends tell me that when they studied abroad, the food was one of the things they missed most about home — and I have to agree!

  10. This was the one thing I was truly disappointed about missing out on in Singapore. If I’m ever there again, I’m heading straight from the airport to one of these places!


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