If they can’t go to the crabs, then the crabs will have to come to them

We’ve been bringing The Old Folks to dine out recently and while they have been comfortable eating at restaurants like Chui Huay Lim and Si Chuan Dou Hua, they seem to have drawn the line at neighbourhood coffee shops, even for their favourite food — crabs.

I think it could be partly due to the crowd, the perceived lower hygiene level and also the need to use their hands to eat. Which, by the way, is the only way you should ever eat crabs. It’s never been a problem in the past, and we’ve had many happy crab meals at Kam Jia Zhuang before. Happy for us, that is. The crabs, not so much.

But times have changed, and so must we. Even heartland tze char stalls like Kam Jia Zhuang have adapted, and started offering delivery services and accepting digital payments since the start of the not lockdown in April 2020. We’ve ordered from them several times since then and this time, it was for one black pepper and chilli crab each, to be delivered to The Old Folks place.

Since Rahim Muslim Food was along the way, we decided to buy satay as appetisers and tick off two items on our 2021 meal plan. We reached Rahim slightly after 4pm and were lucky that (1) the satay grill was already fired up, (2) there was no queue and (3) pakcik was just finishing up his previous order.

We ordered 20 sticks of chicken, 10 sticks of mutton and 2 ketupat, and waited patiently as pakcik perched on his stool in front of the grill, watching intently as the meat sizzled and charred. What usually is an hour-long wait turned out to be only half that, and we reached The Old Folks around 5pm.

We laid out the satay on their dining table, which was covered in a plastic sheet with lavenders printed throughout. I didn’t find it particularly attractive, slightly obiang even, but they seem to love it for some reason.

The chicken satay was as good as we remembered, despite having cooled down and dried out slightly en-route. Each stick was generously chunky and richly marinated, with just the right amount of char. The sauce was sludgy and heavily spiced, just the way I like it. Some satay stalls cut costs by serving watery sauce; Rahim is not one of them.

We were trying their mutton for the first time, and it was similarly well seasoned. The meat was firmer than what I’ve had from other stalls, probably because it was cut thicker and had very little fat.

Mutton satay is somewhat of an acquired taste because it can have a strong gamey flavour. While this was still unmistakably goat, it was more mild-mannered and polite than usual. It was good, but I’d stick with the chicken next time.

I told The Old Folks that this was the best satay in Singapore, and they didn’t disagree. They’ve had their fair share of satay over the years, so this was strong affirmation.

The crabs came on time, right in the middle of the estimated 5:30 – 6:30pm window, and they arrived piping hot. As usual, the camera took the first bite and we dived in immediately after.

The Old Folks are very particular about their crabs and have strict criteria on what crabs to choose and how they should be prepared.

First, the crabs must be alive and fresh, which is usually the case in Singapore and not a problem.

Second, the size should be around 1kg — too small and it’s not worth the effort; too large and the meat would be too stringy.

Third, whenever possible, choose pregnant female crabs for maximum roe, which unfortunately weren’t available that day.

Fourth and finally, when cooking, do not, I repeat, do not, deep fry the crabs first. Most stalls do that to speed up the process, but it affects the final texture and causes the meat to stick to the shell.

I’m happy to say that the crabs at Kam Jia Zhuang passed, except for the lack of pregnant female crabs, which is beyond their control since it’s dependent on the season and their seafood supplier. Between the chilli and black pepper versions, I’d recommend sticking to the latter because I don’t find their chilli crab sauce spicy or thick enough.

To be honest, while their chilli and black pepper crabs are pretty good, they’re not the best that we’ve had in Singapore. Taste is obviously subjective, but the best chilli crab used to be Jumbo Seafood at Serangoon Country Club, which closed down a long time ago and we’ve been trying various Jumbo branches to find back the same taste.

The closest has been Jumbo Riverwalk (note: not the sister branch across the road at Riverside Point), although it’s still not quite the same. The other place that comes close is Kelly Jie Seafood at Toa Payoh Lorong 8, a breakaway restaurant from the more famous Mellben Seafood at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, which also serves good crab beehoon soup and curry crab.

The best black pepper crab used to be at Eng Seng Seafood at the corner of Still Road and Joo Chiat Place, but we haven’t been there for a long long time so I’m not sure if they’ve kept up their standards.

Besides black pepper crabs, Eng Seng is also famous for their very, and I mean very, grumpy front-of-house lady that seats you and takes your order. Do not dilly dally and you only get one chance to order i.e. no second rounds. Also, if you’re hygiene-sensitive, you might want to give this a pass, because the coffeeshop it resides in is old and, let’s say, not the cleanest looking.

There are many many other restaurants in Singapore that serve chilli and black pepper crab, and if you’re not fussy, most are fairly decent. But The Old Folks are fussy, and we’re still searching for that elusive taste from the former Jumbo at Serangoon Country Club.

The hunt is paused at the moment, because they’re wary of using their hands when dining outside, but at least they’re happy enough with Kam Jia Zhuang. And in these dark and gloomy times, we’re thankful for small luxuries like home-delivered crabs that help brighten up their day.

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