That crabby feeling!

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Get your itinerary in place to be treated with the perfect crab from one of the best restaurants in the league

Words Yvonne Jacob

My grandfather likes to joke about how he has his Dal Khichdi while watching MasterChef Australia. I found this amusing until the same happened to me quite a lot of times during the lockdown and it wasn’t as funny anymore, of course. There’s no denying the fact that the lockdown has made us all miss our go-to restaurants. Many of them that we made plans to explore but couldn’t. One such place on my list is Ministry of Crab – run by Sri Lanka’s most renowned chef-restaurateur, Dharshan Munidasa. Chef Dharshan is the mastermind behind some of the best restaurants in Sri Lanka including Nihonbashi and Ministry of Crab – the only restaurants in the country to have been ranked on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List! 

Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and Sri Lankan father, Munidasa found his passion for cooking during his time at John Hopkins University in the US, where he obtained a double degree in Computer Engineering and International Relations. “My First Apron was one that I bought in 1990,” reminisces Munidasa. “I was looking for a black Apron and found one with a Micky Mouse motif on it. Embarrassed to wear this, I wore it inside out the entire time I had it. This was how all the aprons at my restaurants became black. Its probably one of the most difficult colour aprons to maintain in the kitchen. But, Nihonbashi, Ministry Of Crab, Tuna and the Crab and Carne Diem all have my Micky Mouse apron as its inception."

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The birth of Ministry of Crab is no ordinary deal. The idea is attributed to an episode from Munidasa’s TV show ‘Culinary Journeys with Dharshan’, which was dedicated to their iconic Lagoon Crab. “The name Ministry of Crab came up one night over drinks, and then I was looking for a ministerial building and The Dutch Hospital was suggested for this restaurant.” Continuing to tell me about the episode that acted as the catalyst, he says, “ We filmed the first half of the episode in Sri Lanka and the second half in Singapore, acknowledging and saying thank you to Singapore for making our crab famous. But it kind of annoyed me that something of ours was taken and marketed as theirs. So, one of my friends saw this episode and asked me why I am not starting a crab restaurant. That was the beginning of the journey. It was all about respect for ingredients in both restaurants. In Nihonbashi’s case, I found the Tsukiji bound Tuna and Ministry of Crab, Singapore bound crab. Eventually, it was about starting a restaurant in Sri Lanka and it became two. But ingredients are an absolute focus at all my restaurants. In a country where nature is in abundance, we get to source locally."

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Ministry of Crab (MoC) moved closer to home with their outlet in Khar, Mumbai – that follows the same standards in terms of getting fresh produce to the table. MoC is known for its no-freezer policy. Every crab is caught wild on the day and their menu changes accordingly, depending on the availability of the crabs. So what gives a crab the MoC stamp of approval? “Like in humans, there is no such thing as ‘perfect’. There is bound to be some perfect imperfection. A good crab is one that has sweet and succulent meat with some texture. Bigger crabs allow you to experience the meat to be devoured in ways you cannot with smaller crabs and that’s a privilege.” says Munidasa.

Studying how to pick your crustacean is no easy task and it’s also something that Chef Munidasa dedicated a lot of time to during his journey. “I learnt from the crab mongers in the wholesale market of crab in Colombo,” says Munidasa. “All the crabs were received at the wholesale market of Colombo where it gets graded. The best of the produce is exported to Singapore while the rejects are sold to the local market. During my frequent visits to this market, I would observe these crab mongers who knew how to describe a crab really well. I would share a cigarette with them and ask them to teach me how grading is done and that’s how I learnt it.” All these measures led to the implementation of strict quality checking at the MoC and rest assured, you would only be served the highest quality crab there is.

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There must be a slight difference between the crabs at MoC Sri Lanka and the chain in Mumbai, but Chef Munidasa’s quality checks make sure this doesn’t change the standard of crabs. “I believe the best crabs from India should be consumed in India,” he says. “Ministry of Crab Mumbai has crabs flown in from Chennai as we couldn’t find good quality crabs in its right size in and around in Mumbai. I am certain there are quite enough, but it was difficult to source the quantity we wanted. We are probably the only restaurant in Mumbai that flies in ingredients within India. If this is what it takes to provide the same quality in food, our partners in India have managed to achieve this well.” 

Food is definitely a great way to travel and explore the world to experience different cultures and flavours. I ask Chef Munidasa about the places and cuisines he’s particularly fond of, to which he replies, “Food is my religion. Going to the far East you get to try to so many dishes you are familiar yet not familiar with. China, Macau, Hangzhou – cities where we did pop-ups gave us a better insight and there was always this fun element of going to restaurants that serve duck and goose, and then to street food markets to enjoy the aromas, spices, flavours and textures of new food. There are many places I would go back to and try their food again, but there is this one tiny goose restaurant in Hongkong that I would especially like to try out again."

Chef Munidasa’s idea of comfort food is simple – “A good piece of meat cooked well on charcoal with salt or sashimi with salt – that is my idea of comfort food. But given any day, I would jump at trying a bowl of ramen in Japan or lamprais in Sri Lanka.” However, if you are tempted to try something new, then Chef Munidasa has a few suggestions: “If you can, try and have Tonkotsu Ramen, made with pork soup that is white. It’s very heavy and thick and gives some amazing depth of flavour.”

Over our chat, Chef Munidasa shares a few tips and tricks to successful entrepreneurship, “Word of advice to young chefs and entrepreneurs: stop copying each other. Try to do something new. It can be something small. That is how cuisine evolves and culinary arts progress forward. If you keep doing the same old thing nothing changes. Like languages evolve, cuisines evolve too and if you are a part of it, keep on trying new things and have brand new ideas coming out.” 

Looking back at his journey, I ask Munidasa about a defining moment in his career so far to which he replies, “Being recognised by the Japanese Government for spreading knowledge on Japanese food culture was a truly defining moment. All my restaurants have deeply rooted Japanese philosophies, methodologies, and processes in the kitchens. This cultural strength has given me the ability to do what I do.” and with this, we conclude our chat. 

Well, now I know where I’ll be headed to escape the usual lockdown menu and get my well-earned dose of seafood!

BIGGER CRABS ALLOW YOU TO EXPERIENCE THE MEAT IN WAYS 
YOU CANNOT WITH SMALLER CRABS AND THAT’S A PRIVILEGE

WE ARE PROBABLY THE ONLY RESTAURANT IN MUMBAI 
THAT FLIES IN INGREDIENTS WITHIN INDIA

INGREDIENTS ARE AN ABSOLUTE FOCUS AT ALL MY RESTAURANTS AND 
IN A COUNTRY WHERE NATURE IS IN ABUNDANCE, WE GET TO SOURCE LOCALLY