Crazy for crayfish

The lobster's poorer cousin is gaining popularity here, with many restaurants and hawker stalls using the crustacean in their dishes

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 beehoon for boosting the crayfish's popularity.

 

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."

"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

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 threemonth-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 hasslefree. 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Crazy for crayfish'. Print Edition | Subscribe