When I heard about a new Singaporean crab restaurant in Shanghai, Pulau Ketam, I nearly fell out of my chair. Singaporean chili crab in Shanghai was a first! I had tried the Shanghai crab during hairy crab season, while tasty, those are a bit small and a lot of work to eat. But were we talking big, fat Sri Lankan crabs? Classic Singapore chili crab? Would they have my favourite pepper crab as well? When I mentioned Pulau Ketam to a Singaporean friend and this rumour of authentic chili crab in Shanghai, he said, “Really? Real Singapore chili crab and Singapore pepper crab? Are you sure?” This had to be investigated.
It was a Thursday. I made sure I had a very light lunch. If this was the real deal, my belly needed to be primed for the experience. I was a little concerned because the location was in the nowadays tourist overrun Xintiandi, a place most Shanghai residents avoid when possible, but the lure of the chili crab was strong. When we arrived in Xintiandi and located the restaurant, we were surprised to see Pulau Ketam was actually a white table cloth kind of restaurant – my Singaporean friend and I are both used to eating Singapore chili crab outdoors on plastic tables, usually near the water in Singapore. Decorated in with classic Southeast Asian touches and featuring the ubiquitous orchid touches on the place settings it was in fact elegant. I started to wonder what I would do with my chili crab covered hands – this crab stuff is messy business.
In talking to our host, we learned that Pelau Ketam is a blend of concepts – Singaporean classic dishes and hawker food meets modern steakhouse style elegance. This is why they call it a “modern crab house.” We were introduced to the menu which featured familiar, favourite dishes from my time in Singapore, as well as foods from Malaysia and Vietnam. The menu many Southeast Asian dishes from the aforementioned crab and Singaporean carrot cake to Rojak, Samosas, fish cakes and prawns. . My Singaporean friend said, “Wow, I have never seen most of these dishes in Shanghai. If this is good, I may just become a regular!”
We started with and Organic Green Salad with Candied Walnuts and Sweet Orange Vinaigrette (138RMB) and a Singaporean Street Food Platter (98RMB small / 168RMB large). This mere appetizer was a meal unto itself with a smattering of 6 different classic hawker stall favourites from Singapore – chicken satay, fried carrot cake, rojak, ngoh hiang, curry samosas and fish cakes. I was a little worried about retaining stomach real estate for the crab – everything was amazingly authentic and irresistible. My Singaporean friend and I agreed the fried carrot cake, curry samosas and ngoh hiang were especially outstanding and I think I hear him mumble between bites, “Mmmmm…..sinfully good.”
Next up was the Crispy Oat Battered Prawns (158RMB) with prawns fried in clarified butter and then coated with oats and shallots. It’s kind of a sweet and savory dish that is so customary to Southeast Asia.
Alongside the prawns came Spinach and Tofu with Crabmeat (68RMB). This may sound a bit less glamourous than some of the dishes above, but don’t let the simple name fool you. In fact, this dish surprised both of us. I was just hoping to get some vegetables into this otherwise decadent meal, but this had the star power to be a main dish on its own. Homemade tofu is placed on a bed of sauteed spinach and then topped with crab meat. I literally had to force myself to stop eating it, it was only when I saw a big platter of crab coming our way that I was able to exercise reason.
And now for the main event. Both the chili crab and pepper crab were truly authentic presentations of Singapore’s national dish. We wondered how in the world did they nail it so accurately – usually national dishes from any country suffer a bit when prepared abroad. This however was not the case. The Singapore chili crab was spectacular…a bit on the spicy side, but I enjoyed it that way. However if you are sensitive to heavy chilis you might want to let the chef know to use a lighter touch. The Sri Lankan crabs were succulent and clearly incredibly fresh – we were later told they are flown in daily. The pepper crab actually is usually my favourite if I had to pick between chili crab and pepper crab, and this rendition was no disappointment. I suddenly realized that 10 minutes had elapsed and I don’t think myself and my dinner companion had exchanged a word – we were consumed with crab frenzy.
Next out came fried garlic noodles, one of Pulau Ketam’s signature dishes. I regret to say I did not take a photo – I blame the mind-alteringly good crab. This slippery, garlicy pile of pan-fried noodles was easily one of the top dishes of the evening. I could have inhaled the entire platter and gone into carb coma but was saved by the fact that my belly was already full of crab.
Just when we didn’t think we had any room left, out came dessert. Thankfully this was a light and fresh lemongrass jelly that was the perfect finish to a perfect crab dinner.
This meal had been a journey. A journey back to Southeast Asia and Singapore. It was crab carnage – check out the table cloth after they cleared the plates and dishes.
As soon as we left the restaurant, my companion texted another friend who had also lived in Singapore, “You won’t believe the Singaporean chili and pepper crab we just had!” Get ready Pulau Ketam, we are spreading the word and we about to become regulars! See you soon.
Pulau Ketam, Modern Crab House
Bldg. 2-3, Xintiandi South Block, Lane 123 Xingye Lu
near Madang Lu
Telephone: +86 21 5306 3706