This chef wants to save Sri Lankan crabs…



… and his pop-up restaurant at the Shangri-La will showcase just what is so worth saving.

SINGAPORE — Got crabs? Assuming they’re not the kind you need to see a doctor about, give them to Dharshan Munidasa. He’ll know what to do with them.

The award-winning chef is in Singapore this week to run a three-day pop-up at the Shangri-La Hotel. On the menu? Air-flown lagoon crab and freshwater prawn from Sri Lanka, where Munidasa runs the famed Ministry of Crab. It’s an appropriately named joint — apparently, it’s a favourite stop for cabinet ministers and visiting royalty from ASEAN.

The restaurant is one of two belonging to Munidasa on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Which also makes him the only person to have two establishments on the list.

The Ministry of Crab pop-up will open from July 11th to the 13th, with a five-course menu priced at S$168++ per person, including one welcome drink. A crab liver paté is one of the featured courses, and Munidasa says the scarce ingredient is something to be experienced.

Only a few places were left when we went ‘live’.

Half Sri Lankan and half Japanese, Munidasa was born in Tokyo and spent his early childhood there, soaking up the culinary tradition at a young age.

He taught himself to cook when studying computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University, where he apparently found the food on campus unpalatable, but has always had a nose for fine ingredients. One early experience in the kitchen for him was when, as a boy, he made his way to a market in Tokyo and bought live prawn that he then brought home and ate as sashimi.

“I can remember how, headless, their bodies would curl around my finger,” he says. That taste for freshness has formed part of his philosophy. Munidasa sources ingredients for Ministry of Crab every single day. Things are so fresh that the restaurant doesn’t even have a freezer — not counting the one he uses for garbage, which he freezes to reduce its odour.

“My food sourcing philosophy is very simple. For whatever comes from the ocean, we buy what’s available,” he says. “Sometimes we only have 60 to 70 crabs a day. Our actual requirement is about 180, so we have to stop taking reservations at some point.”

Sourcing locally is a top priority for Ministry of Crab — only the wine and olive oil are imported — in order to ensure freshness quality, but also as part of a drive to make sure the business is sustainable.

That’s also one of the reasons for his choice of car, a BMW X5 xDrive40e. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle has a lithium-ion battery to deliver short daily drives without petrol, and a 2.0-litre turbo engine for longer drives or to deliver maximum power for overtaking and such.

Chef Munidasa zoomed in on the X5 for practical reasons. Its load-lugging ability was important, he says. This is someone who buys US$2 million of crab a year, remember.

“Size, that was paramount, but having the plug-in aspect of it was a no-brainer,” he says.  

He’s been tooling about in Singapore in a 530e, another plug-in hybrid, and is thinking of getting the electric BMW i3 to use as a runabout between his various restaurants. That would shrink his carbon footprint even more.

“Sri Lanka is still a beautiful country and still very high in natural resources,” says Munidasa. “Just the other day I went to a coastal village to buy fish, an hour out of where we are. We still get to do that. With development and GDP going up, that’s slowly going to disappear.”

The trained engineer in him is keen to explore setting up solar panels to run his X5 (or the i3, if he makes that his workhorse), with a view to making his restaurants carbon neutral. “To be totally solar-driven would be a good message,” he says. “Not many countries have enough sun to do that.”

He’s found a Japanese company that is setting up a solar cell plant in Sri Lanka, and is waiting for it to ramp up production so he can buy from them instead of using imported panels.

Local sourcing is just how they roll at Ministry of Crab.

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.