May 29, 2012
Crab. Now who doesn’t have a thing for crab? Sri Lanka is a tiny island hanging off the tip of southeast India where there is an abundance of juicy seafood. People probably eat more fish than meat. And yet, it’s been donkey’s years since we’ve been able to get a decent-sized crab or lobster as most of the catch here is exported overseas.
So there’s been great excitement in Colombo when plans for a proper crab restaurant unveiled, spearheaded by none other than two International cricket players, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, in collaboration with Dharshan Munidasa, the the head chef of Nihonbashi, my favourite Japanese restaurant in Colombo. Chef Munidasa also happens to be half-Japanese — see, I’m not the only one out there.
The Ministry of Crab opened in early February this year in the newly restored Old Dutch Hospital complex near the Fort in Colombo. Situated right next to the sea, it’s my favourite part of Colombo with the old fashioned buildings, gorgeous five star hotels and the tiny streets that were once bustling with trade and tiny gem shops. Since the troubles in the 1980s, this area has all but been clamped down with a heavy military presence due to the proximity of the President’s House. But it’s slowly regaining it’s colour and vibrancy with people heading out for a balmy evening of fun.
We were lucky to get a reservation on a Friday night and got the earliest seating before 7pm as we were warned the place would be packed. And it soon filled up.
You can see the thought and design that went into the small details of the restaurant.
Essentials. Although I prefer to use my hands as I am a messy eater.
Very Yamahomo (aka MOTO).
The drinks list was quite simple. We got a bottle of white wine and a lime juice.
See what I mean about the detail? The sugar syrup came separately in tiny test tubes. TOO CUTE.
To share, we started with an order of prawn curry and kade (street shop) bread just like the snacks you can buy off a street vendor.
It was a pretty big portion with large and medium-sized prawns and a stack of ordinary Sri Lankan street bread (which isn’t most people’s first choice of bread but is apparently ideal for soaking up curry gravy.) Many an expat Sri Lankans’ eyes will glaze over when they think about this combo.
Dainty morsel on my plate.
The giant prawns were the size of my hand. MASSIVE.
The prawn curry was TO DIE FOR. It was bursting with the flavours of the sea and we literally mopped the dish with the last of the bread. I could eat this every day.
We also got some kani chahan (crab fried rice). Love the little Japanese touches. We also wanted to order the kani korokke (crab cream croquettes) but they weren’t available yet.
Stir-fried kankun (morning glory) with garlic.
Garlicky prawns with chilli.
Then, on to the more serious business of ordering our crabs. At the Ministry of Crab you choose the size of the crab and then how you would like it cooked: chilli, pepper, butter, garlic or curry.
I really wanted to eat the crab curry as it is one of my favourite curries and you don’t find it everywhere but unfortunately I was with some picky eaters who didn’t want to dirty their hands. Going by the fantastic prawn curry, the crab curry would have been excellent.
But we ordered a large pepper crab.
It was humongous with a good amount of sauce. Unfortunately, it was too peppery for me. Sri Lankan black pepper has such a strong flavour that you often get hot curries made with just pepper and no chillies. Although this was nice, I’m not sure I’d order it again.
And my parents ordered a large butter crab which is crab steamed simply served with a side of hot butter. Of course, my parents being my parents, they wanted some lime and soy sauce too which the waiter kindly provided for us. This is how we eat crab at home.
The flesh was succulent and tender and was perfect with the lime juice and soy sauce. It’s like dipping it in ponzu. The crabs were so big that by the end we were struggling to finish and that’s with four adults. We were happily crabbed out.
After we were done, finger bowls of Ceylon tea and a slice of lime were placed in front of us.
My mum informed me that tea is a good cleanser of fishy smells and nodded in approval. It’s these little touches of detail that make me smile.
We were really full but I wasn’t going to leave without a bit of dessert and so we ordered the Heavenly Chocolate Biscuit Pudding. It looked like a pretty simple dessert but what made it lovely was that it wasn’t as sweet as you expected it to be.
That’s a pretty big thing in Sri Lanka where they love their sugar. It was also huge so I shared it with my ma.
The Ministry of Crab is a pared down restaurant serving some world class crab. It’s pretty pricey (especially for Sri Lanka) but you do pay for quality. The atmosphere is bustling, the waiting staff are attentive and the food is delicious.
Chasing Bawa‘s Literature Pairing: Chinaman (The Legend of Pradeep Mathew) by Shehan Karunatilaka – a jaded dipso-journalist goes in search of a legendary Sri Lankan cricketer who has vanished without a trace. A beautifully written debut novel that drags you through modern Sri Lankan society, culture and national sport. If I had to read one Sri Lankan novel written in English, it would be this.
MINISTRY OF CRAB
Old Dutch Hospital