Where should I start? Probably with my roots for the love of crabs.
During her younger days, my Mom had a hobby of catching crabs. She speaks crab language almost. She can lift a crab up and tell if it’s full of “yellow roe” (milt aka crab sperm). Almost always she chooses the male crabs as she, the connoisseur of crabs, says that male crabs tend to have firmer meat than the females. Which is somehow true, whenever we are stuck with the female ones the meat tend to be more mushy. Of course, the ones with loads of “yellow roe” are preferred. Even better if it’s “double shell”; meaning the crab is just about to molt and there’s a layer of soft shell inside the usual outer shell. Technical stuff when it comes to choosing crabs – I am still learning. I only know how to differentiate the males from females as of now.
We have crabs almost thrice a week (and God bless for our foodie genes, our cholesterol levels are pretty average with the dangerous diets we love) and it’s often at Bai Le near our place at the Jalan Besar Stadium (Lavender). Definitely we order other dishes to complement the crabs when we have the appetite and there are plenty of choices which are good here!
This dish is so yummy that my nephew calls this place the “Pork Ribs Restaurant” as he loves the almonds with that honey ribs. The honey sauce is irresistible, not overbearingly sweet, just the right amount with that tender pork ribs. And the almonds add a slight crunch and texture to the meat. Good dish to start the meal with because it makes you hungrier for more food! There are different variations of this dish in Singapore – Stout Pork Ribs, Champagne Pork Ribs, Beer Pork Ribs (all are sweet by the way) and of course you have the flaming versions. So this is just one of the many many types you can try out in Singapore. Spoilt for choice indeed.
Not just for the kids, adults will love this as well. Crispy fried fritters with tasty fish meat stuffIng, topped with the savoury pork floss. And you need to dip this in mayonnaise to get the full experience of this dish. This is commonly found at stalls like this within hawker centres/food centres, and this improvisation is pretty awesome! Just a simple addition of the pork floss adds another layer of taste to it.
There are different presentation and methods to serve this dish. The choice of chicken wing parts – mid-joint, drumlet or the whole wing. And also that batter on the chicken wings differ, shrimp paste (made from fermented shrimps) and flour is mixed to coat the wings (which are sometimes double fried to make sure they are cooked thoroughly), and to get that proportion right is an art. In my opinion, the batter has to be crisp and light, with a decent taste of the shrimp paste, and mid-joints always. The meat is just the best. Bai Le’s Chef (who’s nickname is Big Brother 大哥 in Cantonese) does this perfect. The chicken is super tender with a well-seasoned light crispy batter, you won’t even want to miss a tiny piece of meat.
I have no idea what this sauce is called in English, I tried to google and couldn’t get a term for it. But if I am not mistaken, this style of seasoning originated from Malaysia. It has curry powder and leaves together with garlic, chilli, sugar and oriental oyster sauce. A wonderful combination of sweet, spicy and salty flavours on the palate. It usually has dried baby shrimps (虾米) in the sauce, like this dish. So other than the fresh clams, there’s little bits of the dried shrimp (salty taste) that balances the spicy sauce. I personally would like more garlic and curry taste in the sauce.
Star of the show! There’s actually two crabs – but my dad took the shell of the other one before I could take a picture. Fresh live crabs cooked in a thick broth with vegetables and salted egg. There’s the usual ginger and garlic as well in this dish. It’s usually served in a claypot that keeps the broth warm, they somehow ran out of claypots today. It was a rainy day and this dish just comforts the soul with the rich crab meat flavours in the soup. The fresher the crab, the simpler the way you gotta cook it to appreciate the quality of the meat. This is a must-have if you do visit Bai Le. Their black pepper crab and chilli crabs are pretty good too, especially with the fried little buns (馒头).
Oh yes another fun/useful fact about eating crabs outside in Singapore. At most eateries, they generally use the not-so-good crabs for cooking Chilli Crab as the sauce will mask the taste and better ones for steamed/cold crabs for obvious reasons. It’s also common for restaurants to disallow patrons to choose crabs or would do a switch in the kitchen. And the crab experts will know, like my Mom, when they do switch and often we will not revisit the restaurant.
We actually had other dishes which I had no chance of taking pictures of as the plate was almost empty by the time I remembered I need a picture. We had a dish of Stir Fry Kailan with Garlic, which is simple, juicy and yummy. And we also had prawn Roll (虾枣), a popular dish in Singapore, house-made and just SGD $10! For the uninitated, it’s fresh beancurd skin rolls stuffed with jicama/mexican turnip (“mang guang” in teochew), onions, prawn, pork and then deep fried. It’s usually dipped in a sweet plum sauce. Super yummy!
The meal cost us just $118 for 5 adults and 2 young kids, and we were extremely full and satisfied. So if you are hunting for food at Jalan Besar, and can’t find a seat in the popular joints, do hop down to Bai Le and try out their food! They are a chain of restaurants with branches all over the island, but I have not tried out at the outlets so can’t guarantee the same “standard” of cooking. Maybe you will bump into me there 🙂
Bai Le (百乐) Zi Char
100 Tyrwhitt Rd