Seeing a mouth-watering picture of garlic-pepper crabs, my memory immediately launched back into this crab feast lavishly laid out for us by one of my cousins. This was in Davao.
Where Tuna Panga reigns king. But where crabs are a princely feast.
By the way. I prefer crabs over tuna any day.
My cousin, a gourmand without pretensions, promptly ordered crabs, crabs, crabs for a tableful of us. Crabs cooked in different ways. He didn’t even waste time asking us — because he knew exactly what to order.
He’s the kind of person I’d like to eat out with, any day. No dilly-dallying. No hemming and hawing. He just goes straight to the point: his cravings.
‘Some huge crabs were served in wide, white bowls — nearly filled to the brim with thick, resplendent sauces. Some of the crabs were already cracked open. I could see the rich, gelatinous, orange-red fat gleaming, peeking from inside the shells. Tantalizing is the word that comes to mind.’
When the crabs came, oh how they came!!!
In huge white platters — the better to see their sauces, my dear! Resplendent in deep, orange-red. Bathed in the most aromatic of sauces that actually gleamed as the waiter carefully set the platters on the table.
Some huge crabs were served in wide, white bowls — nearly filled to the brim with thick, resplendent sauces. Some of the crabs were already cracked open. I could see the rich, gelatinous, orange-red fat gleaming, peeking from inside the shells. Tantalizing is the word that comes to mind.
They all looked different, the crabs. They were presented in various ways that left me in this ecstatic, glorious dilemma… which one, oh which one, should I start with???
I looked at my cousin in delicious agony: Help!!! Which one should I eat first???
He looked at me and gave me his usual benign, of-course-I-know-better-than-you smile.
He reached over, got the big serving spoons and forks, and deftly scooped up two giant crab claws for me. He took one claw, gave it a quick whack, an expert twist, and voila!!! He presented before me a crab claw — stripped of its thick shell — the virginal white meat intact, untouched, quivering in all its crab glory.
It was a work of art. Like the Benihana chefs who charged us an arm and a leg in Tokyo.
But as with all things beautiful, so worth it.
My cousin smiled at me again — benignly, almost condescendingly — and commanded me, “Eat!!!”
If only for that, I forgave him for all his past sins against me. Haha. (He used to wait up till 3am to make sure Ito brought me home from a party, as promised. And he used to lecture me until 4am, wagging his finger at me, telling me to break up with Ito because a guy with a Benz is always up to no good. My lame excuse was always — the Benz is his dad’s not his. And the new car assigned to Ito and his sister was commandeered by his brother.
Of course that had no bearing at all on my cousin’s suspicions about Ito being a profligate boyfriend.)
Back to the crabs.
Oh myyyy, those crabs. They all looked like we could stay there for ages before we’d finish eating them all. What a happy thought!
We all had different reactions to the crabs. Raspy sighs of anticipation, sharply-exhaled breaths of excitement. Ooohs and ahhhhs all around, of course. My uncle leaned over, close to the lazy Susan (you know, the large ones for Chinese lauriats) — and he took long, deep breaths to catch the crabs’ aroma before he got his first serving.
Did you know that taking deep breaths of your food’s aroma will increase your eating pleasure?!! Yes. And don’t feel like a hedonist. There’s nothing sinful at all about it. Just don’t do this at buffets. It’s very bad manners to smell food (in public) before eating it! In private — go ahead.
Anyway, back to my crab memory. The second unforgettable thing my cousin did was to crack open a crab, put plain steamed rice in its shell, mix the rice around with the thick aligue inside, put the crab sauce of your choice and some extra seasoning on it — then, voila! He presented it to me with two hands, with such a flourish, like it was a Harry Winston jewelry box or something.
So I forgave him some more.
The crab fat, intimately mixed with rice and sauces, was to LIVE for. Not die for.
I’d live another day for another crab feast like that.
So this is the story of the day I went to Crab Heaven.
Thank you, George.