Cancer, one of the 12 ecliptic signs, has just made way for mighty Leo. So, for those who prefer not to partake while the crab-represented star sign is in its ascendancy, it is safe to indulge once more. There is no secret to the great love Malaysians have for seafood — crab, in particular. From sweet, speckled flower crabs, also referred to as blue swimmer crabs, to fleshy giant mud or mangrove crabs, it is a marine delicacy enjoyed by all races, in a dizzying variety of cooking styles: from the Malay Ketam Masak Kuning Daun Kunyit to the Chinese Chilli Crab and Indian Nandu Rasam.
So much cheaper and easily available than lobster, crab flesh is also sweeter and finer-textured. And few pleasures beat gathering your friends around a table to excavate a mountain of gravy-drenched crabs with your bare hands. While there is certainly no shortage of crab-centric restaurants at which to chow down (perennial favourites range from Fatty Crab to South Sea Seafood and Mei Keng Fatt), it is new Bangsar baby, The Lankan Crabs, that is the choice du jour of Klang Valley foodies.
Opened a few months ago along the hip Kemuja row that includes Lisette’s Café & Bakery, Zoe Bangsar and Apollo Dining, The Lankan Crabs offers a strictly Singhalese take on its cuisine — and with good reason. Its chefs hail from the famed Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo.
The Lankan Crabs’ décor is basic but not bare-bones, and the vibe is light-hearted, casual and fun. We walked in on a Friday evening and the place was heaving. So, take note: Reservations are rather a must. Start in classic Serendib style with some cutlets — choose from fish (RM15), chicken (RM15) or mutton (RM20) — or, better yet, dive headlong into appam, those lovely lace-edged hoppers with a meltingly soft middle. Guests can take a peek at Aunty Lalli, the maîtresse of the appam station, at work through the glass partition at the restaurant’s heart. Pick from plain, egg, paal (milk) or paal with brown sugar (RM2.50 to RM5.50 each), although the last option is usually taken in lieu of dessert.
The Negombo Crab (RM170) is the undoubted star of The Lankan Crabs’ show and its position is completely justified. Forget the medium-sized options and just ask for the XXL mud crabs, which weigh between 600g and 700g each. After all, it is always a case of go big or go home, right? The crabs are imported live daily from Indonesia and there are plans to get fresh Sri Lankan crabs in by the year-end. Those who have been burnt by exorbitant bills after seafood slap-ups will be relieved to know that a generous serving of two of these large babies would set you back just under RM200.
An additional order of crab gravy (RM5) is also a must. Should there be any left over from dinner, we do not need to convince you of the merits of dunking a piece (or three) of crisp toast into it for brekky the morning after. The Negombo or Jaffna curries are spicy but not sadistic in the least on the palate; but if you prefer to feel safer with a milder option, then opt for the garlic butter flavour. Traditionalists would order Atta Puttu (RM16), a dish comprised of coarsely ground atta flour and coconut, to go with the crabs, but our dinner companions collectively agreed that the milky, saucer-shaped appams made a better receptacle for the luscious sauce.
It is unfortunate that everything on The Lankan Crabs’ menu makes you think “Ooh that sounds good and I’ll have a bit of that”, resulting in the table soon groaning under the weight of dishes. Most are undeniably tasty, but it is the Mutton Paal Poriyal (RM42) that stands out. For those with no cholesterol issues, the Mutton Bone Marrow Varuval (RM50) sounds equally ethereal. Do not miss trying Sri Lanka’s justifiably famous sambols either. We ordered the Katta Sambol (RM5) and it packed a real punch. The only fly in our proverbial soup was the Sri Lankan Devilled Chicken (RM26), which was dry and paled in comparison to everything else we ordered.
For those who have been to Sri Lanka and fallen in love with lamprais, a dish of Dutch Burgher origins whose name derives from lomprijst or “a packet of food”, do know that The Lankan Crab serves it too — but, alas, only for lunch and home delivery. And while The Lankan Crabs is not a posh place, you would come away well impressed by its service: efficient, knowledgeable and thoroughly welcoming without being obtrusive.
There is also a small selection of wines, but if you need to make space in your personal cellar, the RM50 corkage charge imposed is not unfair in the least. We’d love to go on about the other dishes and desserts, but we feel we should save some of the joy and mystique of discovering the menu for when you do visit. After all, seeing as the global situation has clipped everyone’s travel wings somewhat, we can at least look forward to adventures and journeys of the culinary kind in the comfort and safety of our own city.
The Lankan Crabs, 4, Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar Utama, KL. 03 2201 0128. Daily, 8am-10pm.
This article first appeared on Aug 3, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.