Ministry Of Crab (A Review)

A two kilo behemoth


Ministry Of Crab is damn good. You get a food high, seriously. They take whatever makes traditional Sri Lankan seafood good, distill it, refine it and lather it over the biggest crustaceans I have seen in my life. Damn good, really. Took some friends from China and the place did Sri Lanka proud.

The premise of Min Crab is to serve export quality crabs in Sri Lanka. For years the best Sri Lankan crab was in Singapore. Now those same crabs are available in the Dutch Hospital shopping complex, across from the World Trade Center. What that means, however, is that this restaurant has to compete with Singapore on price, so it’s more pricy than Sri Lankans are often used to. Holding back, our bill for three people was Rs. 8,500, or about Rs. 3,000 per person. That’s still about $25, so not insane, but still 30 times what I usually pay for lunch.

Is It Worth It?

Yeah. Hell yeah. I’m not even a big crab person, but it was very very good. Size in one thing. The prawns were so big I wasn’t even entirely clear on what I was eating. It seemed like a small lobster. That prawn hot-pot costs Rs. 1850 and theoretically serves three people, though we were basically licking the bowl. The flavors used at Min Crab have that involuntary awesome you get outstation, where you get an amazing prawn curry at a guesthouse or random kade. They take that traditional cooking and distill it down to its essence, so you get the taste without overwhelming spiciness (unless you ask for it).

It’s perhaps the closest Sri Lanka has got to high cuisine. Sri Lanka has amazing traditional cooking and mediocre restaurants trying to be something western. No one’s taken the charm of traditional food and modernized or experimented with it, until now. Perhaps that Jaffna place that shut down in Nawala. I dunno. The stuff makes you feel high and yet grounded, that’s high cuisine to me.

Where Be The Trimmings?

I read an early review that mentioned the price and the relative simplicity of the fare. Our bill didn’t include wine or dessert or anything extra. Just a medium crab (Rs. 3,200), prawn hot pot (Rs. 1,850), small rice (Rs. 380), and kankun (Rs. 380).

I would venture that the simplicity extends beyond the fare. The seating is at long bench tables, so you’re seated with other people, like a barracks. I mean, a very posh barracks. The kitchen is completely open so you see exactly what’s going on. The waiters are quite nice but not insanely attentive. As far as I can tell there are no specials.

So Why Is This Good?

I’ll admit that when I first sat down I thought we’d get a private table, and I was a bit scared by the price. The minute you bite into something, however, you forget where you are, what you’re sitting on and just eat. They give you a fork and knife but that’s gone in about 15 seconds and you’re just digging into the meal with your fingers and hands. Eating crab and this type of prawn is a bit aggressive, to say the least. The shell is edible, sorta, but you really have to bite and clomp and pull to get the meat out. You have to work for it, it’s kinda like killing the animal again. Thank you for your lives btw, crab and prawn.

The idea of holding a wine glass in this state is laughable and the thought of dessert is quite far away. It’s all about the food on your plate, and in that moment everything about the restaurant locks into place. It’s all about the food.

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26 Comments »

2012-01-23 10:03:37

*drools*

You could’ve included more pictures.

 
Rain
2012-01-23 10:10:11

Oh yeah! me too aint a crab person but was there in December and it was the BEST meal i have had in SL. Mouth watering! we were given this gadgets to handle the crab but, after 5-6 mins we were using our hands and to eat and were licking our fingers !!! I was bit a upset about our behavior so, when i looked around saw all these very posh sudda buggers (from UN i learnt later) also eating with their hands! :D

The menu was catchy, specially the Constitution! I bet Sangakkara him self wrote them down. (check out the menu to see what i meant)

I think this is the best Both Mahela and Sanga did together after that 600+ runs partnership at SSC few years back!

 
2012-01-23 10:41:57

Do you mean 25 US$ or Sing dollars? ‘Cos 25 US is steep even for crab in Singapore.

 
DD
2012-01-23 11:40:10

@Rain: Crab is ALWAYS eaten by hand (obviously not talking about soft shell crab tempura or crab cakes, or other dishes without the shell).

 
DD
2012-01-23 11:46:00

Food in Sri Lanka is ridiculously pricey. I had a bucket full of HUGE snow crabs here in Canada this weekend – that’s about three times the amount of crab meat compared to the “biggest crustaceans” at MOC, and it cost me $19.00.

And in most ‘all you can eat’ Chinese buffets here they have all you can eat crab and Chinese food for $14.00/head.

It’s volume and bar sales that they make a majority of their money from, even if the profit margin per plate is not high. It works – they serve hundreds of covers per day and have been in business for years!

Omr
2012-01-23 13:19:22

What a load of bullcrap. Food at the MOC is pricey but eat where normal people eat and what the average Sri Lankan eats in Sri Lanka and food is absolutely, ridiculously cheap compared to prices in the developed world. This includes fruit.

the way of the dodo
2012-01-23 13:29:47

utter bullshit. Food is a lot cheaper in the developed world. my grocery bill came to around 20-30 dollars a week, and that was in calfornia one of the more expensive states to live in. basic amenities are very expensive in sri lanka. A kilo of sugar is around a dollar in the states the same as here. Meat is lot more cheaper there. the same goes for all the other dairy products.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2012-01-23 13:47:55

You should avoid calling bullshit when there’s obvious data available.

The average Sri Lankan household spends about Rs. 13,000 on food. I think the average household is about four people. (How Sri Lankans Get Their Eat On

Shopping at supermarkets and for processed goods is more expensive, and I think an upper middle class family would spend more than they would for a comparable lifestyle in the US.

If, however, you eat samba rice, vegetables and occasionally fish or chicken, food here is relatively cheap.

 
the way of the dodo
2012-01-23 14:51:28

The average a household spends on food doesn’t mean food is cheaper here, all it means is that people are spending less. 1 kilo of chicken comes at around 300-350 here, chicken goes at 1 dollar per lb in the states. bananas are cheaper there, those gigantic dole bananas go at around 1.99 per kilo at costco. A single kolikuttu costs about 15 rupees here. There is no doubt about food prices being cheaper america in my mind

 
Omr
2012-01-23 15:11:45

Rubbish. You can feed SEVERAL people in Sri Lanka with ample food/drinks/desserts with say US $30 dollars, even more depending on where you eat. What the fuck can that buy you in most of the west? Several happy meals from McDonalds? One lousy steak? Two desserts? Where do your buy your bananas in Sri Lanka? Go to a village kade/pola (where the vast majority of Sri Lankans shop) and see what they pay.

 
the way of the dodo
2012-01-23 15:56:39

Lol OMr. You can buy 30 meals from the dollar menu for 30 dollars at McDonalds, wendy’s, taco bell or any fast food joint. oh BTW, beef is cheaper in america than over here.

And that 15 rupee banana quote was from one of those ‘economic centers’ where stuff is sold at wholesale prices. Infact i just checked online and the going price for a ton of banana in america is 950 dollars. that’s a dollar a kilo, the odds of finding banana for that price here is very small.

http://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=bananas

 
the way of the dodo
2012-01-23 16:09:42

even eggs man, an egg cost about 11 rupees here. a dozen eggs cost 1.50 in the states

 
the way of the dodo
2012-01-23 16:26:36

the only things that actually cheaper here is decent alcohol and cigarettes. You can get decent arrack for around 1000rs, white rum for a little bit more. And cigarettes are around 420-440.

 
Omr
2012-01-24 13:50:46

I still find $30 can take me MUCH MUCH further in Sri Lanka than it can in the west. It can actually take SEVERAL people much much further than it can in the west.

 
 
 
2012-01-23 13:24:07

Prices usually depend on local supply. With crab we’re competing against buyers from Singapore, so it gets priced at an international level. That said, a small crab at MOC costs about $25 and quite comfortably feeds two people. I can’t speak for wherever you got snow crabs, but I’ve found the dish expensive wherever I go.

Food in Sri Lanka is generally cheap, I pay Rs. 100 for lunch and can make dinner at home for, well, actually sometimes more than eating out. Certain items are really expensive, like cheese, but that’s again dependent on local supply and demand.

2012-01-23 13:41:57

Again, are you talking US or Sing dollars, ‘cos 25 US$ is expensive for crab even IN Singapore.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2012-01-23 13:58:51

I looked around and crab seems to cost about 30-50 SGD (Trip Advisor), and I suppose higher. The small crab at MOC is about Rs. 2800, or about 30 SGD.

Anyways, where on earth is $12 (USD) per person expensive at a restaurant? To have crab and prawns and rice costs about $30 per person at MOC. That is really a normal price to go to a restaurant. I’ve taken people from China and America there and they were all quite happy with both the food and the price.

 
2012-01-23 18:28:22

I remember eating crab in Sing at an outdoor food court for less than 20 Sing dollars. I’m sure it’s more in a swanky restaurant. That’s why I asked you if you meant 25 Sing dollars or US. Haven’t been to MoC, so no idea if it’s termed swanky by Sing standards.

 
 
 
 
2012-01-23 14:54:16

So I guess that’s a closed loop then

 
AS
2012-01-25 01:15:54

Hmm, I feel like the point has been missed in this discussion of global food prices. The issue is one of prices relative to GDP per capita or average income per capita. So, even if as the discussion suggests, prices of an avg. basket of food is the same across SL and US then based on the income distribution of the Sri Lankan population I would say purchasing power is much lower (not statistically backed). So, the poor, even if shopping at a kade (incl. my family) spend a bigger proportion of their income on basic necessities, and struggle with other costs like school fees. The problem is inflation is higher than other ‘developed’ countries and tends to be understated by the central bank.
If production of certain goods, like crab is local but prices depend on global demand, then there are things that the government could do to subsidize producers and keep a share in local markets at a lower price.

Anyway, I never venture out in CMB, I can’t afford it and I would rather take the a more nutritious home cooked meal with my mom’s crab curry. Ah, sadness, the dissipating culture of at-home eating!! And then we wonder why there is a gradual rise in certain health issues related to unhealthy lifestyles.

Something else I’m more curious about…..that merits some research….I’ve heard that credit card debt among some age groups in Sri Lanka (particulary 25-45ish range) is increasing rapidly. I wonder if this has something to do with the culture of being out all the time and therefore spending more than one’s earnings (going back to the original point). What does debt accumulation mean for future generations? [This is mere hearsay though, could be wrong] . That’s where the Chinese win, they save more, invest, fund the spending of the wanting and then pretty much own you, but you don’t know it (a la Sudan)

Rohan Samarajiva
2012-01-25 10:58:36

Instead of speculating, why not look at the data? Easily accessible at http://www.statistics.gov.lk/HIES/HIES2009_10FinalReport.pdf. Other data in CBSL annual reports will show how few people have credit cards.

Seems like cherry picking to praise the Chinese and then bemoan people eating out. The Chinese have a strong eating-out culture. The more people get out from behind the walls and fortresses, the better society will be. Good for the economy too.

AS
2012-01-25 23:44:17

Sorry, but I don’t understand your point?

That data you have given pretty much validates my point on relative consumption. Intuitively, if global prices are roughly the same for a basket of goods, and incomes are not (i.e. lower in SL), then purchasing power is lower. Granted the composition of the baskets may be different too, but that is likely due to that very lack of purchasing power. You won’t buy cheese even if you really like cheese because you can’t afford it.

Furthermore, you can’t say a whole lot looking at aggregated summary statistics available in the SL gov. reports. One would have to do much more rigorous statistical estimation to get at the underlying spending behavior. FYI, the SL stats dept. does not release any of their household/ community level data publicly and it’s a real ‘harangue’ trying to get it! Funny, because I’ve been able to get other developing country data quite easily.

With respect to the issue of credit card ownership, the demographic I was referring to would be urban youth, now, I doubt that data on borrowing, across sources, their particular spending etc are available. What I’m interested in is the growth rates. I do agree with you that in general ownership of credit cards is very low but as certain segments of society develop, this would rise.
Certainly, I cannot say a priori exactly how our consumption to savings ratio would be affected.

Yes, China has a culture of eating-out. The where and the hows and the how much spent are very different though. For one, studies show that nutritional composition of food eaten (at home or outside) by Chinese are vastly different from US and others. So in terms of health, they suffer from fewer cases of obesity, heart-related disease etc. This is even in spite of the growing middle class that probably eats in different arenas. Sri Lanka on the other hand, does not offer the healthiest options to people who eat out relative to the nutritional value of food eaten at home.

The Chinese have a significantly higher savings rate than anyone else in the world which suggests that despite eating out, they may not be spending as much on that, or other spending. That’s why (other than the sheer numbers game, SL being a small fry) they have the ability to hold everyone’s debt. That is not just directly correlated with a countries population size, it’s also about the culture.

Now, coming back to your point …..” Seems like cherry picking to praise the Chinese and then bemoan people eating out. The Chinese have a strong eating-out culture. The more people get out from behind the walls and fortresses, the better society will be. Good for the economy too.”
……Eating out can mean very different things, it’s one thing if it’s all in a gala rush because you don’t have time to cook at home and out are eating out on the way home in a rush, a lot of eating out that consists of buying from out (unhealthy), actually implies a greater level of isolation. We don’t sit together as much all the time and eat together. Going out to restaurants to eat with friends and hang out is something else. Most Sri Lankans can’t afford to eat in the fancy places Indi provides reviews on. Most households buy out to save time.
Sure, spending to boost cash flow in an economy is good, in the short term, like the stimulus package in the US to get the economy out of the boonies. In general, eating out is good, if you watch what you are eating and do it for social reasons, no doubt. For investment purposes, I can think of a thousand better ways to stimulate the economy through investment and job creation that actually engages more technological growth.

Anyway, the point is I was speaking more of savings, not trying to confound it with stuff on eating out…..makes no sense to do so, the issue of savings/investment is not so conjoint to the former.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
 
 
 
2012-01-31 19:23:37

[...] Ministry Of Silly Walks Apparently Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga has said that the name Ministry Of Crab violates the Constitution and possibly the company registrars act. This is all based on an off-hand [...]

 
RD
2012-03-28 11:35:51

hey indi….. i would like to know where u buy this Rs.100 lunch from?

2012-03-28 13:25:08

Down the street, where I live.

Literally, go to any streetside eatery. Lunch is usually about Rs. 80-120

 
 
2012-08-17 12:51:24

[...] and wrote a review for YAMU, calling MoC “the best restaurant in Sri Lanka”. I’ve reviewed it before and I generally agree. What’s remarkable is first, a high-end restaurant thought to offer a dish [...]

 
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