28 December 2012

The Ministry of Crab (and one Crabby Broad)

This is about as happy as Violet Dear gets.

When I was flipping through the pages of the Sri Lanka Lonely Planet one entry in particular stood out for me: The Ministry of Crab.

You guys remember that I like crab, right? Ahem? Do ya? How 'bout now? Yeah. So it was pretty obvs that my visit to Colombo was certain to include a crab feast that would leave me bloated and crustacean-y. Sri Lanka is a crab wrangler's paradise, but the sad fact is that they export over 95% of their best guys - mostly to Singapore (to make the infamous chili crab).

Ministry of Crab wants to change that. This upmarket restaurant uses cheeky branding and high quality ingredients (including dem export-grade lagoon crabs) to draw people through its doors. It's just one of many establishments housed inside of the newly renovated Old Dutch Hospital, a colonial building that dates to 1662.  Three local foodies spearhead this crabcentric eatery, and they do a brisk business catering to Colombo's nouveau riche and the sudden onslaught of tourists eager to visit now that the civil war is over. And sister, it ain't cheap. 

But that is where the mumsy comes in. See, I am here in Sri Lanka with Mummy Dear(est) for a Christmas vacation. She jokes that her holiday destinations are dictated by the location to which she has to follow me that year - and she is actually kind of right. She and her longtime boyfriend Tim (who I have nicknamed "Classic Rock Tim" due to his predilection for blue collar rock n roll) were planning to visit me in Kathmandu, but I knew that I be ready for a break from the cold (and pretty much everything else in Nepal) by Christmas. Thank you, sweet sweet foresight!

Mum and Tim are still avid backpackers at the age of 50, the kind of working class boho/hippie/artsy folks who go to Burning Man. Last year they went to Egypt and Jordan, and this year Australia and Sri Lanka. They're here with me for a few weeks of wandering around a country my mum has been dreaming about for years, a paradise of tea plantations, pristine beaches and colonial architecture. And a few years ago, if we had come here on our way to the Maldives, we would have had it almost all to ourselves.

Now, not so much.

When the decades-long civil war came to a tense ceasefire in May of 2009 the rest of the world realized the stunning gem that they had been avoiding was now safe for traveling. Tourism has EXPLODED. Now, I know we are here at New Year's, but the scarcity of available accommodation is shocking - the supply has not expanded as quickly as the demand - and the prices have skyrocketed. This ain't no Southern India. Sri Lanka realizes that it is located just nextdoor to the Maldives, one of the most exclusive vacation destinations in the world, and they plan to rebrand themselves as the next big thing. Prices for guesthouses and hotels are more in line with the West than with the rest of South Asia, and backpackers' style rooms just don't seem to exist. So we have had to kind of say "fuck it" with the budget and are living a bit large.

Ministry of Crab is about as large as you can get in this part of the world.

 A beacon in the humid night.

We booked our reservations for a Boxing Day Feed and giddily pretended it was Christmas Dinner. We knew it was going to be a bit spendy, but this time of year is always rife with the admonition, "it's Christmas!" as a justification for all kinds of bad behaviour. We laced up a crab bib and got started.

Next time it's Jumbo all the way, baby
We ordered a portion of the claypot curry prawns, some curried garlic (yep. That is a thing here. Squee!) and 2 monster sized crabs (ok, they were just mediums. But they were big!) We settled on one crab served with melted butter and one stirfried in an unctuous blend of spices, oils and peppercorns, for which Sri Lanka is also famous.

After watching me suck out the brains of some pretty gigantic prawns with veiled disgust, Mum and Tim's jetlag and headcolds caught up with them. They had only finished two thirds of the butter crab and avoided the pepper crab completely, leaving me to psych myself up with a gourmand's peptalk and crack my knuckles - and a lot of crab claws.
Tell me - honestly - why I should give one single fuck about any other kind of food?

Now, this was a pretty swish place, so unlike most of Asia I didn't only have the help of my teeth and my little grippy fingers to get the crab meat outta its shell - they had crackers! Hell, they even cleaned the brains and goop and organs out of the body and pre-cracked some of the more tenacious legs for me - I felt like a princess in the crabbiest fairytale ever. Princess Crustacea from the undersea kingdom of Yum. (That's enough Lion beer, Dear.)

I have to be honest and say that the experience at MOC was not perfect - a lot of the dishes really needed a bit more kick and definitely more salt, and our waiter was determined to ONLY talk to Tim, even when it was clear that my mum and I wanted to do the ordering (Tim's not a huge crab guy). In fact, the waiter seemed to be refusing to make eye contact with us gals, and when my mum presented her credit card to pay, the waiter still handed it to Tim to sign. Guys, when I am in a chai shop or whatevs I expect this archaic gender shit, but in a restaurant designed for travelers and expats? C'mon. Serious balls. Stop it.

But despite these mild hiccups, Ministry of Crab is kind of like Disneyland if you like shellfish - prefabricated, yes, but designed to make even the grinchiest folks happy. Crab's Ahoy!

Oh, she so crabby!

1 comment:

Mike said...

That's what I call crab—not those crab pincers you get from restaurants in the west.