The Origin of Our Signature Dish: The Chilli Crab

The Origin of Our Signature Dish: The Chilli Crab

The Chilli crab, a beloved culinary icon in Singapore, owes its origins to the inventive spirit of Madam Cher Yam Tian. From its humble beginnings as a roadside stall to its evolution into a renowned seafood restaurant in Singapore, Roland Restaurant has become the go-to destination for seafood enthusiasts seeking the best chilli crab in the city. Join us as we trace the fascinating history of this iconic dish and discover how it has become a cornerstone of Singapore’s culinary scene.

Humble Beginnings

In the 1950s, Cher Yam Tian and her husband, Lim Choon Ngee, lived in a seaside kampong near Upper East Coast. The family lived a simple life, with Choon Ngee often bringing home crabs he caught from the nearby sea. Madam Cher, following the traditional Teochew method, would steam the crabs, a preparation that was delicious but would soon become monotonous.

The Spark of Innovation

One evening, Mr Choon Ngee expressed his desire for something different. He had grown tired of the same steamed crab and wanted a new flavour to excite his taste buds. Madam Cher decided to experiment in her humble kitchen. 

For Madam Cher’s first attempt she stir-fried the crabs with tomatoes. The initial result was promising but not quite perfect. Mr Lim observed that the sauce was too sweet and suggested adding chilli. It added the desired kick of heat and depth of flavour that had been missing – creating the first form of this iconic dish.

From Family Favorite to Street Sensation

Word of Madam Cher’s delicious chilli crab spread quickly among her neighbours. They encouraged her to sell the dish, believing it was too good to keep to herself. In 1956, with her husband’s support, Madam Cher set up a small pushcart stall by the Kallang River. The journey was not without its challenges. Operating a roadside stall came with risks, especially since they did not have a licence to sell food initially. Cher even roamed around Kallang with her pushcart, at times evading environmental officers. 

It was a humble beginning with just a few tables and an open charcoal fire for cooking. They relied on kerosene lamps for light, as there was no electricity supply in the area. The stall quickly gained popularity. The tantalising aroma of stir-fried crabs and the unique, flavorful sauce drew in customers from near and far. The simplicity of the setup did not deter food lovers; if anything, it added to the charm and authenticity of the experience.

Expansion and Recognition of the Best Chili Crab in Singapore

As the popularity of the chilli crab grew, so did Madam Cher’s business. By the early 1960s, the family had saved enough to open a proper restaurant along Upper East Coast Road, which they named Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant. In Singapore, this establishment became a culinary landmark, attracting even more diners who were eager to try Madam Cher’s now-famous chilli crab.

The restaurant’s success was not just due to the chilli crab but also to the other Chinese seafood dishes Madam Cher created, including black sauce prawns, baby squid, and chilli cockles. However, it was the chilli crab that remained the star, drawing repeat customers and new visitors alike. Madam Cher’s innovation had not only created a beloved dish but had also cemented her place in Singapore’s culinary history.

The Legacy Continues

In 1985, Madam Cher and Mr Choon Ngee decided to retire and sold their restaurant business. However, their son, Roland Lim, was determined to carry on the legacy. He returned to Singapore after a brief stint in New Zealand and opened Roland Restaurant in Marine Parade. He ensured that the restaurant stayed true to Madam Cher’s original recipes, including the secret recipe for Chilli Crab known only to him and his long-time head chef.

Under Roland’s leadership, the restaurant has thrived, attracting both locals and tourists. The Chilli Crab, along with other signature dishes, remains the highlight of the menu, captivating the taste buds of diners across generations. As the leading chilli crab restaurant in Singapore, Roland Restaurant not only offers a taste of history but also maintains the high standards set by its founder.

Today, Roland’s youngest son, Justin, manages the front-of-house and focuses on social media and marketing. Justin’s efforts to modernise the restaurant’s outreach have helped attract a new generation of diners while honouring the family’s rich heritage – becoming a beacon for lovers of Chinese food in Singapore. Despite new culinary trends, the Chilli Crab remains a timeless favourite, a testament to its creator’s ingenuity and perseverance.

The dedication to preserving traditional recipes while offering an exceptional dining experience makes it a must-visit destination for anyone craving Chinese seafood in Singapore


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