Claw and order

A bit of the hospitality and flavours from America's Southern states, from Louisiana to the Carolinas, is making inroads in the food scene here. Think Creole- and Cajun-inspired food with a blend of flavours from Spain, France, the Carribbean and Africa. Common herbs and spices used in Southern cooking include lemon pepper, paprika, cayenne, oregano and garlic.

There are now no fewer than four restaurants offering intepretations of a range of popular Southern dishes, from shrimp and grits to seafood boils served with various spice mixes and plenty of garlic. A fifth Southern restaurant is slated to open at the end of this month.

These restaurants include two-month-old Full Of Crab in East Coast Road; four-month-old Southern restaurant and bourbon bar The Beast, at the corner of Jalan Klapa and Victoria Street; and Crab In Da Bag at The Big Splash in East Coast Park, which opened six months ago.

Life Is Beautiful, which will serve modern twists on Southern fare, is slated to open in Duxton Hill this week.

Other eateries with Southern roots or Cajun- influenced dishes include Ruth's Chris Steakhouse at Marina Mandarin hotel, an American steakhouse that originated in New Orleans in the 1960s, and Big Bern's American Grill in Balestier Road.

The Cajun Kings in Jalan Riang in Braddell Heights Estate was the first restaurant to bring the style of Cajun seafood boils to Singapore when it opened 1 1/2 years ago.

While the concept of eating seafood with hands, either out of plastic bags or poured onto a table covered with paper, may be fairly novel here, it is a well-accepted one in the United States.

Here, three restaurants that centre on seafood boils - The Cajun Kings, Full Of Crab and Crab In Da Bag - all interpret Southern flavours differently.

The restaurateurs behind them say they missed tucking into the seafood boils they used to enjoy in the US. They add that the unpretentious style of dining also appeals to diners here because it allows people to let their hair down.

Crab In Da Bag owners A.P. Tan and Monique Kwok, who is also a co-founder of Belgian mussel chain Brussels Sprouts, feel that the fun and interactive experience that comes with dining with one's hands is a bonus.

Ms Tan, 49, adds: "Here, people interact and engage with each other instead of with their phones or tablets."

Typically, the diner first chooses the type of seafood and additional ingredients such as corn and potato, then decides on the flavouring. These range from garlic butter to spice-mix seasonings. Usually, the spiciness level can also be adjusted.

For instance, Full Of Crab offers three types of seasoning - garlic butter, Cajun and its secret house-blend, known as Fully Loaded, which contains more than 20 herbs and spices.

Crab In Da Bag has its Caboodle Mix, garlic butter and two Asian-inspired seasonings: the Ultimate Curry, an aromatic Northern Malaysian-style curry; and Mum's Special, a sweet-sour sauce with onions, garlic and tamarind.

And as far as Southern cooking goes, many will attest to the popular motto that "if it ain't fried, it ain't cooked".

At The Beast, expect dishes such as Country Fried Chicken served with buttermilk biscuits; shrimp and grits, a dish of prawns served with a creamy porridge made of ground corn; and fried chicken and waffles.

Owner Jamie Koh, 29, who studied at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, wanted to share the food of the South that brought her much comfort during her university days.

Some of the recipes she uses include those for cornbread and buttermilk biscuits that her friends from Alabama and Tennessee have given her.

Ms Koh says: "Singapore diners are usually adventurous and open to trying new things, and Southern food is comforting; it is something that I feel diners here can identify with."

Restaurateurs say they are already on the lookout for suitable spaces for expansion, given the good responses to their food. The Cajun Kings and Crab In Da Bag, for example, are looking to open more outlets here. Crab In Da Bag is also in talks to franchise its business overseas.

Diners say they enjoy these Southern restaurants for their laid-back and communal vibe.

Ms Luanne Lee, 26, who has dined at The Cajun Kings, says: "The cuisine is multi-generational and fun. You don't have to worry about the dos and don'ts of dining etiquette."

rltan@sph.com.sg

The Beast

What: Tuck into hearty Southern food that includes dishes such as shrimp and grits ($28), and chicken and waffles ($20). The crispy chicken, which is brined and coated in a buttermilk batter before it is fried, is served on a waffle and a side of a house-made Bourbon maple syrup butter sauce. The restaurant's new menu, out next month, will feature country fried steak ($24), crab cakes ($16) and soft-shell crab and pulled pork sliders ($16 a serving).

Where: 17 Jalan Klapa

Open: 5pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays. It plans to open for brunch on Sundays from next month

Info: Call 6295-0017 or e-mail info@thebeast.sg. Go to thebeast.sg

Full Of Crab

What: Unlike the other seafood boil eateries, Full Of Crab does not offer diners any cutlery because the idea is to enjoy the food solely with your hands. Seafood here includes Sri Lankan crab, king crab legs and prawns, and is flavoured with a buttery Cajun-style seasoning with more than 20 herbs and spices. Spice levels can be adjusted. Sides dishes include battered Twiggy Fries and sweet potato fries. Expect to spend about $50 to $60 a person, depending on what seafood you order.

Where: 195 East Coast Road

Open: 4 to 10pm (Mondays and Wednesdays to Thursdays), 4 to 10.30pm (Fridays), 11.30am to 10.30pm (weekends), closed on Tuesdays

Info: Call 6348-8195 or e-mail enquiry@fullofcrab.com. Go to www.facebook.com/FullOfCrab

Crab In Da Bag

What: Seafood here includes Sri Lankan crab, king crab legs and Venus clams. The seafood is first cooked in a secret seasoning before being tossed in a choice of garlic butter; a fragrant Northern Malaysian-style curry; a savoury sauce with fresh onions and a hint of tamarind; or a Caboodle Mix of house-blended Louisiana spices and garlic.

There are also bags for kids such as a tomato-based pasta with sausages and corn, as well as side dishes of fish fillets and fries. Prices start at $18 for a portion of seafood.

Where: Block D Unit, 01-25, 902 East Coast Parkway, Big Splash

Open: 4 to 11pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays

Info: Call 6440-0083. Go to crabindabag.com

The Cajun Kings

What: The restaurant serves an interpretation of Cajun-style seafood boils. Seafood ranges from Dungeness crab to Manila clams and Ecuador white prawns, and can be seasoned with five flavours including garlic butter and the King's Mix, a house-blend. Diners can also opt for how spicy they want the boils to be.

It also serves gumbo, fried catfish and chips, and pork belly crackling. Expect to spend at least $40 a head, depending on the seafood you opt for.

Where: 15-1 Jalan Riang, Braddell Heights Estate

Open: 4.30 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 4.30 to 11pm (Fridays), 3 to 11pm (Saturdays), 3 to 10pm (Sundays), closed on Mondays

Info: Call 6284-4426 or e-mail hello@thecajunkings.sg. Go to www.facebook.com/TheCajunKings


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