Woman who invented Singapore’s iconic chilli crab dish dies at age 90

The local food community recently mourned a great loss. Cher Yam Tian, also known as the woman responsible for creating Singapore’s iconic chilli crab dish, died at the age of 90 on Wednesday. 

Popular food personality KF Seetoh wrote a touching tribute honoring her legacy in a post on Facebook. 

Seetoh said that it was Mdm Cher who came up with the original version of the iconic dish in the 1950s. Her recipe then “inspired the legendary sambal version we revere today, dreamt up by the Chef Hooi of the Four Heavenly Kings”.

The Four Heavenly Kings refer to the quartet of skilled master chefs in 1960s Singapore who specialized in Cantonese cuisine. The four also went on to create the version of lo hei we know today, which has become a staple Chinese New Year dish. 

In his tribute, Seetoh said, “Her audacious idea to cook a bold crab with a bolder chilli sauce has made it into our makan history.”

“We will remember you and thank you for this gift of culinary. May you rest in peace,” he said at the end of the note. 

Mdm Cher’s legacy

Mdm Cher was only 23 years old when she created the dish – by accident! – in 1956. It came to be when she added bottled chilli sauce to her stir-fried crabs instead of the usual tomato sauce.

The dish grew to be a hit with family and friends and she set up a stall along the Kallang River, where she sold crabs for S$3. 

As she gained more customers and fans, the restaurant expanded and relocated to Bedok Beach along Upper East Coast Road.

Years later, her son continued her legacy at his own place, Roland Restaurant, which still serveds diners in Marine Parade. 

On his restaurant’s website he mentioned that the original chilli crab dish was eaten with local-made crusty French loaves instead of the fried mantous it is usually served with today.

More tributes

Food blogger Leslie Tay also paid tribute in a post of his own. In it he said, “The best way to remember her is to be familiar with the story of chilli crab!” Indeed. 

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