by Rhoel Fernandez, Choose Philippines, Editor-in-Chief
How much do Pinoys love good alimango (crabs)?
I found out how much during the opening of the newest Red Crab Alimango House in Chinatown when my wife, who suffers from a seafood allergy, quietly popped an antihistamine pill, put on the over-sized bibs and started digging in the huge platters before us.
Choose Philippines was invited to the restaurant’s grand opening on a Sunday morning at the upscale Lucky Chinatown Mall in Binondo, Manila. We came to see what’s so special about this particular seafood establishment. We found 24 reasons why.
Restaurateur Raymund Magdaluyo came up with the idea of 24K- which indicates the number of ways the popular crustacean is prepared at his restaurant.
“Over the years we keep 12 to 14 recipes. Why not experiment? Bring out everything we have? When customers come here they have a feast!” said the 39-year old Kapampangan entrepreneur.
Raymund said they are promoting Red Crab as a top-of-mind tourist/ balikbayan restaurant- hence adding “Alimango House”.
“We want the dining to be a special experience- Pinoy but not traditional Pinoy like when you’re in a barrio or the bukid. We’re a seafood country- we have LOTS of seafood”, he said.
Browsing at the Red Crab menu you would certainly believe it. It would take you several minutes just to decide how you want your crabs cooked!
There are the predominantly Filipino-inspired specialties such as Crab Adobo sa Buko, Crab Sinigang sa Sampalok and Salted Egg Crab. Thrown in the mix are Red Crab’s signature concoctions such as the Crab Maritess, a bestseller; the mysterious Crab 7; Fidel’s Pepper Crab; the Balikbayan Crab and the Crab Pateros with Aligue and Balut.
International classics are represented by Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter Crab, Crab Singapura, Malaysian Kangkong Chilli Crab and Thai Chilli Crab.
Red Crab founder Chiqui Eusebio explained that they started in 1998 as a specialty restaurant at Mimosa Clarkfield in their native Pampanga.
“At first we had 6 kinds of crab dishes- Asian and Kapampangan- dumami recipes when we opened in Manila since we have to compete with several restaurants,” said Chiqui who pointed out that choosing alimango as the centerpiece of their restaurant was “accidental” since it so happened they had several good recipes for crabs like her mother’s specialty: Crab Adobo- a Kapampangan-inspired dish where the crab is cooked in aligue (crab fat) and vinegar. Chiqui herself concocted Szechuan Crab and with the Crab Adobo became the house specialties.
She said the Maritess Crab, their own version of how they prepare the Dungeness Crab in San Francisco, is slowly gaining popularity. She added they only use olive oil and not butter to make them healthier.
Aside from giving credit to his “crazy chefs” (40% of whom are Kapampangans) who come up with distinct crab recipes, Raymund takes special pride in the quality of their alimango- all of which are sourced in the Philippines.
“Our neighbors buy our crabs! During a research & development trip in Hong Kong we saw Cebu Pacific boxes in the back of the restaurant we went to and they would sell them 5 times the price in Causeway Bay. Crabs are expensive food but compared to other countries our crabs are relatively super mura,” he said.
Initially Red Crab was limited by Pampanga crabs but as their branches increased (the Chinatown branch is the 5th) they now source their crabs from different parts of the archipelago, namely Iloilo, Bicol, Masbate, Cotabato, Aklan, Basilan and Zamboanga.
Raymund maintains they will not compromise on quality:“We only get the cultured, export-quality crabs. What we export abroad- that’s what we use- because we don’t want Filipinos eating inferior quality. Why should we eat the reject crabs of the foreigners when we’re supposed to best parts for Filipinos?”
Raymund elaborates that there are components to any type of consumption: functional, social and and emotional.
“Every time you eat a crab there’s a functional and emotional benefit- nabubusog at nasasarapan ka. The social component is the bonding experience- lahat ng tindahan naming is to enhance bonding. So every time you get your hands dirty, crack a crab mas napapalapit kayo.”
According to Raymund, Red Crab’s number one clients are doctors and med-reps because when med-reps want to get closer to their clients they bring them to Red Crab where they “close the deal”.
“After that they’re now friends. This is when you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and after that there’s some bonding,” Raymund explains.
When asked what he wants his customer to remember after their Red Crab experience, Raymund has this to say: “We want it to be memorable- they come here for special gatherings. Our number one target market is gatherings talaga. Red Crab is a microcosm of what the Philippines is- a little bit Filipino, a little bit international and a lot of the sea. Eating a crab is a special moment.”