By: Jas Mitch
Crab Shack! Baby, Crab Shack!
Kep knows how to do two things amazingly well. One is Crab. The other is Kampot Pepper. The joining of the two results in an incredible flavour combination that the region is famous for, fried crab with Kampot peppers…
The place to go for crab in Kep is a series of crab shacks, so named because they are small, simple shacks, sitting on the rocks, open to the ocean.
You can’t really go wrong here. It’s about 2kms away from Kep Beach, where we were staying but the walk down in so lovely and refreshing, along the water, past the monkeys… With a nice cool breeze coming off the ocean. You pick a crab shack and you’re good to go!
Being my first time eating crab, I had done some “research” leading up to our first night eating crab by way of watching incredibly graphic YouTube videos. Now I was more or less prepared and deeply horrified.
Our first night we wandered along and by the time we arrived the rain had begun! The first place we looked at going to had unfortunately battened down its corrugated iron window shades facing the ocean to get protection from the storm. We were really keen on eating our crab with the view of the awesome storm that was developing and so we moved along to a more open crab shack. This turned out to be a wise decision as the crab was delicious and the Kampot pepper sauce was generous, coating the crab and rice in these amazing flavours! It was probably our favourite crab from our time in Kep.
We ate crab everyday for the five days we were in Kep and storms that way at night were not an uncommon experience! Our second night of eating crab there was a particularily violent storm. Luckily we had found refuge one again in a crab shack with an awesome view of the storm. We sat down, ordered our crab with Kampot peppers and another dish of crab with tamarind sauce (also highly recommended! Was amazing) and began to eat…
Then the power went out… Along the whole strip of crab shacks! Complete and absolute darkness! Now Mitch and I have learnt that head lamps should pretty much always be in your bag, so we whipped them out and were ready to keep eating, much to the jealousy of the surrounding tables.
The crab shack had a different solution. They wheeled in a scooter from outside and hooked it up to a separate set of lights with an extension cord… This was obviously not the first time this had happened…
Whilst we ate our crab by a combination of head lamp and scooter light, I looked over at the restaurant next to us and felt sorry for them… They didn’t have so much as a candle and were attempting to pick apart crab in darkness…
The other must-do crab experience in Kep, the thing all the local families do, is to head down past the crab shacks at lunch time, hand pick join crabs from the many many crab sellers lining the pier and get them cooked up by the ladies at the market! The you head back to Kep beach and find a good spot to hang out and feast with the family! Everyday we watch so many people do this!
We were apprehensive. Going down to the crab markets is an overwhelming experience! There are stalls EVERYWHERE selling anything from fish and other seafood to toys for the kiddies. And that’s not even buying the crabs yet!
So we headed down to the pier where there are scores of people in the water manning their crab pots waiting to be given the signal to haul them up for a sale. We were watching a bunch of locals give it a go when we were approached by a guy with a mask on. He asked if we wanted to buy some crabs and so off we went. He calls a lady nearby and she brings in her crab stash. I, having no idea about crabs and having only eaten them a few times now, thought it wise to leave the purchasing to Mitch… So I took photos instead!
Basically the process is that you negotiate your price and then they begin pulling out crabs for you to look at! You either accept them and they get put in a bag or you reject them and back they go! We ended up with 6 crabs!
You then attempt to keep up with the lady who has your crabs as she twists and turns through the markets to the production line of boiling pots! At one point I was almost knocked down by a group of people bringing their huge full basket load of crabs to be cooked! It’s crazy in there!
Before you know it you are being handed a bag full of cooked crabs! We grabbed some fresh sweet chilli sauce from the market stalls and headed back to our balcony to consume the crabs!
They were pretty good! Not our favourite but absolutely an experience that anyone visiting Kep should partake in. I will admit I was a bit overwhelmed by the live (then dead) crabs and having to fully pull them apart… Perhaps an experience for a more experienced crab eater!
I never really understood the crab thing back home but now I do. It has been some of the best eating experiences of our trip… There is nothing quite like having a cold drink whilst pulling apart fresh crab after a hot day. Just another reason to love Kep!