The decadent lobster is a prized seafood here, but foodies are now also paying attention to its poorer cousin - the crayfish.
In Singapore, crayfish or slipper lobster refers to a clawless species of lobster with a flattened head. It is related to the spiny lobster, which also does not have large claws. It is often used in zi char dishes - best served with salted egg yolk or cereal - as well as in pasta and as an option for steamboat meals.
Freshwater crayfish, on the other hand, resemble small lobsters with large claws and are also known as yabbies in Australia and crawfish in the United States. Like the slipper lobster, the flesh of these crayfish is also sweet. It is commonly seen in crawfish boils or used in soups. In China, a popular way to cook crayfish is with Sichuan peppercorns.
Restaurants and hawker stalls here have been quick to catch on to the trend of using slipper lobster. Business owners see it as a suitable substitute for lobster because it is cheaper, but has sweet and succulent flesh that is easy to pluck out of the shell. Some credit the popularity of seafood white bee hoon for boosting the crayfish's popularity.
"I don't have to shell prawns or fiddle with crab shells. It's also easier on my pocket since my family loves to eat cereal crayfish.
BUSINESSMAN DARIUS KHOO
Stalls serving the dish with crayfish include Xian Seafood La La Beehoon in Ubi Avenue 1, East Seafood White Beehoon in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 and Woon Woon Pek Beehoon at Changi Village Hawker Centre.
Mr Cedric Chng, 32, owner of 15-month-old zi char restaurant Big Lazy Chop in Short Street, says: "The simple white beehoon became so popular and people had to start differentiating themselves. Lobster and crab are too expensive, so the next best option is to use crayfish."
When he revamped his menu last September, he introduced a Big Lazy "Indo" Curry Beehoon, which quickly became one of the restaurant's signature dishes. The dish is not new to Big Lazy Chop's head chef Oh Ah Lek, 53, who used to work in restaurants in Vietnam and served this dish there with lobster.
Mr Chng says: "We used crab at first. However, we realised that diners are not too keen on it, maybe because it's too troublesome to eat. So we switched to crayfish."
Mr Low Chee Siong, 43, chefowner of Xing Lou Seafood Village at VivoCity's Food Republic and Xing Lou Seafood White Beehoon at Ion Orchard's Food Opera, says that diners look out for crayfish dishes on the menu. Both his outlets sell seafood white beehoon with crayfish. At the Food Opera outlet, he sells up to 550 servings of the dish every week.
He says: "Top-quality - and even average-quality - lobsters are far more expensive than crayfish because they have to be sourced from countries such as Australia. I prefer to use crayfish because it is widely farmed in South-east Asia and is more easily procured in large quantities."
Riding on the trend, new dishes such as chilli and black pepper crayfish have been added at the VivoCity outlet, and crayfish fried in housemade sambal at the Ion Orchard outlet.
Using crayfish is also more suitable for dishes that come in small portions.
Mr Anthony Chan, 38, director of zi char restaurant Wok Master in City Square Mall, says: "Due to its size, crayfish are more suitable for single-person or small portions of dishes, compared with crab." The restaurant, which has four crayfish dishes on the menu, uses more than 100kg of crayfish every month.
Crayfish is also the crustacean of choice for the hotpot at three-month-old Thai restaurant Soi Thai Soi Nice in Alexandra. Besides its cost, the restaurant's managing director Chiam Wee Leong, 33, says that crayfish can be cooked for a longer time compared with other seafood such as crab.
Diners are going crazy for the crustacean.
Human resources manager Regina Goh, 32, says: "I love crayfish white beehoon because it's not overpriced, very fresh and you generally get a decent-sized portion. If I'm eating at a zi char restaurant, crayfish is something I would definitely order."
Businessman Darius Khoo, 45, likes that eating crayfish is hassle-free. He says: "I don't have to shell prawns or fiddle with crab shells. It's also easier on my pocket since my family loves to eat cereal crayfish. I like Wok Master's laksa version, which doesn't mask the sweet crayfish flavour."
CRAYFISH MAC & CHEESE
What: Mac and cheese includes chunky pieces of crayfish. It comes as part of a set lunch ($18.90, with salad, soup and drink, 11am to 3pm, weekdays only). On the a la carte menu, the dish is served with tequila prawns and a salad with corn salsa ($23.90).
Where: Morganfield's outlets at 02-23 The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green; 01-51A VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk; 01-645/646 Suntec City, 3 Temasek Boulevard, open: 11am to 11pm daily Info: http://morganfields.com.sg
CLAYPOT XO CRAYFISH TANG HOON
What: Zi char restaurant Wok Master lists four dishes featuring crayfish on its menu. The claypot XO crayfish tang hoon comes with glass noodles in a herbal stock ($14 or $28). The other dishes are chilli crayfish ($25 or $35), sambal crayfish ($25 or $35) and claypot crayfish laksa ($12).
Where: Wok Master, 02-51/52 City Square Mall, 180 Kitchener Road, open: 10am to 10pm daily Info: Call 6835-9096 or go to www.facebook.com/wokmastersg
CRAYFISH, SCALLOP AND PUMPKIN PORRIDGE
What: The newest dish on the menu at Xing Lou Seafood Village in VivoCity's Food Republic is crayfish, scallop and pumpkin porridge ($8.90). Its other crayfish option is the signature seafood beehoon ($15.90, $30 or $50). Xing Lou's other branch at Food Opera foodcourt in Ion Orchard also offers the signature seafood white beehoon (from $12).
Where: Xing Lou Seafood Village, Food Republic, Level 3 VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk, open: 10am to 10pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 10am to 10.30pm (Fridays, Saturdays and eves of public holidays) Info: Call 6276-0521
ROYAL THAI HOT POT
What: The signature Royal Thai Hot Pot ($38.80 for two, $68.80 for four) from Thai restaurant Soi Thai Soi Nice features ingredients such as crayfish, tiger prawns and roasted pork, served in a housemade tom yam broth.
Where: Soi Thai Soi Nice, 02-01 Alexandra Central, 321 Alexandra Road, open: 11.30am to 3.30pm, 6 to 10pm (weekdays), 11.30am to 10pm (weekends and public holidays) Info: Call 6250-4863 or go to www.facebook.com/soithaisoinice
CRAYFISH IN DA WOK
What: Seafood lovers can head to Wad Bistro in Commonwealth for its Crayfish In Da Wok ($38). The dish has crayfish, squid, clams and prawns on a bed of pasta topped with melted cheese and a slightly spicy cream sauce.
It is good for two people or for a bigger group with other main courses.
Where: Wad Bistro, 01-727, 117 Commonwealth Drive, open: 11.30am to 11.30pm daily Info: Call 6352-7434 or go to www.facebook.com/wadbistro
CRAYFISH PRAWN HOR FUN
What: Tuck Kee (Ipoh) Sah Hor Fun is tucked in a corner of Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, but look out for throngs of diners slurping up its hor fun dishes.
The crayfish prawn hor fun ($8) is the highlight, with smooth Ipoh-style rice noodles. Other hor fun options come topped with ingredients such as prawns, chicken or clams.
Where: Tuck Kee (Ipoh) Sah Hor Fun, 02-40 Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, 531A Upper Cross Street, open: 11am to 2.45pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
BIG LAZY "INDO" CURRY COMBO BEEHOON
What: Inspired by Indonesian-style curries that use evaporated milk, Big Lazy Chop's head chef Oh Ah Lek, 53, uses the same ingredient for his curry beehoon, which packs a spicy punch. The casual zi char restaurant offers two versions of the dish - the signature crayfish beehoon ($19 or $24) and the full combo ($28 or $35), which includes other seafood such as clams, sliced fish and prawns. A non-spicy white mee sua version is available. Prices are likely to increase next month.
Where: Big Lazy Chop, 01-04, 1A Short Street, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays Info: Call 6238-8443 or go to www.biglazychop.com.sg
FRUIT JUICE MEE SIAM WITH CRAYFISH
What: It is not every day that you get crayfish in mee siam. But the dish is a perfect combination of sweet crayfish flesh and slightly spicy, tangy gravy. The fruit juice used is a secret of stall owner Daniel Soo. This Bib Gourmand-rated stall also features crayfish in laksa and mee rebus. Each dish is $7 or $8.
Where: Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa, 02-66 Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, 531A Upper Cross Street, open: 11.30am to 4.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays