Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lady General and The Very Peppery Crabs

Eng Seng Restaurant
247 Joo Chiat Place
(Junction of Still Road and Joo Chiat Place)

In the name of good food, I will sometimes endure some abuse. Sometimes I think we, the customers, get bullied by the famed hawkers in our island. Two hawkers with a punchy character that comes to mind are, the Hokkien mee stall in chomp chomp, where an order for a plate will always be replied with, “30 minutes to 1 hour wait ah”, or Chef Danny at Sin Huat whom will make you sit around nursing your tiger beer before he come around from the kitchen to take your order. Service was never really their strongest aspect of their restaurant. In fact, most of the time I find myself at the mercy of these hawkers, having driven across the island with the end goal of fulfilling the craving of Hokkien mee, crabs or whatever, I will endure the madness. The best things to pack for these survival situations are engaging company and a good sense of humour.

This corner coffee shop serves up the best black pepper crabs. The crabs, which are usually sold out by about 9pm, are weighty and jammed packed with sweet and firm flesh, and come coated with a sticky, gooey, thick pepper sauce; think spicy black honey. Other than their trademark “very peppery crabs” that are sold here, it is hard to imagine this place without the fearless matrie’d that keeps the peace and customers in line with her thunder voice. I have not mustered up the courage to ask her for her name, or for her last name, so we just call her the lady general.

This place opens at 5pm, but it fills up and it will be full by 5.30pm, which means you will have to stand in line to wait for them to turn over the tables. While you stand in line, remember that you are on lady general’s turf. If you try to cut the line, she will scream at your and order you to the back of the line. When you stand in line and place your order, you can order what she permits -

Lady General: Hor fun, mee fen?
Us: Err, do you have hokkien mee?
Lady General: Hooor fun, meeee fen.
Us: Err .. how about ..
Lady General: HOR FUN, MEE FEN!
Us: ok, ok, mee fen.

On other occasions, she will stipulate how many crabs you can order. If it is later in the evening and the crab supplies are rapidly dwindling, she might cap your crab order, or if you are a party of 4 and want to order one crab, she will give you the look of death and instruct you to order more. When faced with these situations, just be the obedient Singaporean and comply, experience has told me that the fight is futile. When your table is ready, she’ll point you to it, and you can slowly meander through the tables and crowd to get there.

Despite having to stand in line, and to sometimes endure the abuse of this lady (I have seen a softer side to her after her service hour, when she has ushered the last customer to their table), the crabs still make the trip worth while. They serve both pepper crabs and chili crabs, which are both good, but I prefer the pepper crabs, because of the pepper paste that liberally slapped into the wok, and worked into the crabs. In addition, lady general has her own aura; her crowd control management skills are impeccable, adding some character to this corner coffee shop.

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Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi june, thanks for the tip-off; i love pepper crab and this place sounds like a real gem!

11:58 PM  
Blogger joone! said...

good luck with the lady general!

9:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

hi june - i've been to this eatery before, the 'lady general' terrifies me to no end! the last time i was here, i was reduced to getting my own small bowls of chillies from the main counter after receiving a frosty stare and a curt "i got no hands-ah!"

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! I mux admit their pepper crabs are one of de best I've tried. Even thou I ordered the crabs to go, still had to wait a good 45mins for it. *Roll eyes*

Btw, understand fm my frens dat, sometimes if they run out of crabs, U can even bring your own crabs & ask they to cook it for U. Dunno how true, maybe if U dare...can try it some time. *wink* ;)

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi june

the lady general's name is Ah Hwa (2nd intonation)


11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there at 5.00 pm yesterday and boy,I had to wait a good 45 mins in line before we were let in.
And it was a good 45 mins before we got our hands on the black pepper crabs! It did not matter because we had our fill of 'you tiao' stuffed with fish paste, 'fu jien mian' and baby kailan before that.

I must say that it was worth the wait, as the crabs were succulent and the gravy, heavenly! My mouth is watering as I type!

Highly recommended but be early, or you may end up with an empty crab aquarium (it was empty when I left at about 7.30 pm yst!)

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I love Eng Seng. Best pepper crab in Singapore bar none.

My tip: I go at 4.30, I think they open around then. No q. I order to go, pay up, am told to wait half an hour but its usually less :))

BTW, I have also discovered the other stalls in the coffee shop. Great stingray and SUPERB chicken wings. Always end up ordering those as well. Cheers!

10:38 PM  

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