SG50 Special #50: Chill Crab Founder Cher Yam Tian

Food, food and more food. Singapore is the ultimate foodie's paradise and it is no wonder whenever visitors hit our Sunny shores, the first thing on their minds is Singaporean food. Chances are they have a bucket list of must try dishes and the Chilli Crab dish is THE local gastronomical experience stacked right at the top. Singaporeans may not be aware but the Chilli Crab has become a global ambassador of Singapore's food culture together with the likes of Chicken Rice and Laksa.

But behind the glamour of being Singapore's culinary poster boy, the Chilli Crab was borne out of the humblest of origins. It was not intricately created in some five-star restaurant but in one of the kampungs near the shores of East Coast during the 1950s when a lady named Cher Yam Tian tried to please her husband taste buds during dinner time. 

In those days, when the tide was low, they would pick prawns and crabs right out of the sea and Cher would often steam them for dinner. But soon, eating the same steamed food daily grew boring and it fell on Mdm Cher to spice things up. She tried all sorts of methods, but it was only when she experimented with tomato sauce and chilli that she hit the jackpot. Not only did her husband love this concoction, her neighbours whom she shared her food with even encouraged her to set up a stall to sell it. This was how Singapore's very own Chilli Crab dish was born! 

A small make-shift stall along the Kallang River soon transformed into the well-known Palm Beach Restaurant which was sold when Mdm Cher and her family migrated to New Zealand. Fortunately for Singapore, Cher and her family soon found the relaxed lifestyle in New Zealand not ideal for business and moved back to Singapore to rekindle the family business.

If you are Singaporean, you most certainly have tasted Chilli Crabs before, but have you ever tasted the original Chilli Crabs painstakingly invented by Mdm Cher Yam Tian back in the 50s? If you have not, fret not! That original Chilli Crab recipe can still be found today at Roland Restaurant, which is owned by Mdm Cher’s son, Mr. Roland Lim. Roland Restaurant can be found at Block 89, Marine Parade Central, #06-750; Singapore 440089; +65 6440 8205. 

Thanks to Mdm Cher Yam Tian, Singaporeans now have a world class dish that we can truly call our own. In 2011, Chilli Crab was listed on CNN Go as one of "World's 50 most delicious foods", at Number 35. Even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain proclaimed after he had tasted Chilli Crab, “Now I can die happy!”. Her Chilli Crabs were so popular that even Malaysia tried to claim it as their own national dish in 2009.

With such high accolades for her inventive national dish, don't you think Mdm Cher deserves this #SG50 mention for her iconic contribution to Singapore? Without her original Chill Crab recipe, Singapore's food culture would have lost a shining star and will never be the same again. 

All Singapore Stuff
's SG50 Series is a reader driven effort to celebrate 50 years of being Singaporean. Based on recommendations suggested by you our readers, for every week up till Singapore's 50th birthday, we will feature one Singaporean hero who has left an indelible mark on our Little Red Dot. Know of any deserving Singaporean that you believe must be featured? 
Send your nominations to [email protected] or private message A.S.S on Facebook and tell us why they are your Singaporean hero! Majulah Singapura!

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