Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pickled Crab – A Small Forgotten Delight

How often, and easily, a dish disappears from our memory…

A short conversation with a friend brought me back to a dark bottle of preserved crabs, often displayed in old provision shops back in the late 60s.

Even though it was a common side dish with the Teochew, I recall eating these pickled crabs only once -- when I was very young. Back then in the 60s, the majority of people earned meager salaries, and these little crabs would often be the only dish in a meal, eaten with a bowl of plain porridge. They are called Wa Kee.
Photo by Mark Ong

Wa Kee are tree-climbing crabs that inhabit the mangrove swamps. They are parasitic and burrow in the mud, and feed on the propagules, or buds, of the mangrove plant. The crabs emerge at dusk and are known to climb as high as 6 metres up a tree to forage for food. To harvest them, a net is held at the base of the tree, and a long stick used to scare or dislodge the crabs, which then drop into the net.

The Teochew pickle them in vinegar or soy sauce, while the Thai like the crabs salted or deep-fried. Sadly, these crabs have become hard to find in Singapore.

Pickled Crab

Wa Kee                                         300 g, live
Fresh coriander                         2 tbsp, minced

Sichuan pepper                         ¼ tsp
Coriander seeds                        ¼ tsp
Soy sauce                                     2 cups
Garlic                                             4 cloves
Chili padi                                      2, sliced thinly
Sugar                                            2 tsp

  1. Soak live crabs in clean water for 2 days, changing water every 6 hours. Pat dry.
  2. Pan-fry Sichuan pepper and coriander seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Pour soy sauce and garlic. Simmer for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Add chili padi and sugar; stir thoroughly until the sugar dissolves. Let it rest to room temperature.
  3. Add crabs and submerge them.
  4. Keep it in a fridge for at least 24 hours.
  5. Add fresh coriander before serving.