Getting Crabby

20 Feb

Last night I finally made it to Fatty Crab, which is probably one of the most famous Malaysian restaurants outside of Malaysia, thanks to this place in New York, which was one of three (Malaysian restaurants) in that city to get a Michelin star. The New York Fatty Crab (NYFC?) is, in fact, named after the original in Petaling Jaya, because the owner spent a year as a chef in Kuala Lumpur and it was his favorite place. It’s also pretty famous within Malaysia; it won the coveted “Best Crabs” Foodsters Award last year, and was voted Best Restaurant (not best crabs, or best seafood, but best restaurant, period) by Time Out KL readers in 2009. (Sadly, Anthony Bourdain had his chili crabs in Singapore.) And it has the ultimate stamps of fame: mat salleh (Caucasians) at the tables (brought by a guide or a Malaysian in the know, presumably, as Petaling Jaya isn’t much of an expat enclave), and a crowd of 20 locals waiting patiently for a table. Since Malaysians don’t go out to eat in groups smaller than ten people, Tom and I were able to sneak onto a table without waiting.

Hopefully those mat salleh weren’t expecting this…

Fatty Crab NYC

Because this is what you get in Malaysia.

The original Fatty Crab, Petaling Jaya

But what about the food? Fatty Crab is one of those restaurants that does one thing, and does it well. Unlike other seafood stalls I’ve been to, the menu was blessedly short: crabs (steamed or chili), prawns, incredibly juicy fried chicken wings, and fried rice. And of course, toast to soak up the chili sauce on that crab. (White toast. With the crusts trimmed.)

The house specialty

The crab itself was, well, crab. I mean, it was quite tasty — I think they use mud crabs, which have a sweeter, firmer meat — but I’ve been in Malaysia long enough to expect nothing but the best in seafood. (It’s going to be a sad day when I go back to Chicago and am reduced to eating frozen snow crab at the Red Lobster.) The real draw, though, is the sweet-and-sour chili sauce. This is where the toast comes in: it’s used to soak up every bit of spicy, tangy gravy. I’ve had chili crabs at a couple of different places, but the sauce is definitely something special. And a bit addictive. (Incidentally, I often joke about chefs using narcotics in their dishes, both on this blog and in conversation, but Tom told me about a Chinese restaurant that was using actual — not metaphorical — opium in the food. Talk about Chinese restaurant syndrome.) Obviously, the recipe is a secret, but it looks like fresh garlic stir-fried with green chili puree and…spices. If I find myself driving out to Petaling Jaya every day for my chili crab fix, I’ll have an idea of the secret ingredient.

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