Fried Rice With Crab Paste

A Richer and More Colorful Variant of the Basic Garlic Fried Rice

Bottled taba ng talangka (crab paste)
© Connie Veneracion

Say "fried rice" and the image that comes to mind is Chinese-style fried rice with small pieces of meat, chopped vegetables, and eggs. In the Philippines, fried rice tends to be simpler. The most popular version, called garlic fried rice, is cooked by sauteing minced garlic until golden then adding the day-old rice and salt. Everything is stir fried until the rice grains are glistening with the garlic-infused oil.

 For a richer garlic fried rice, crab paste can be added. The crab paste used to cook this fried rice dish comes from talangka.

What is talangka? They are small crabs. The English terms include river crabs and shore crabs. Names sometimes get lost in translation but, as far as I know, talangka is not the same species as the invasive shore crabs found in Europe. 

Talangka don't have any substantial meat. They are prized for their fat and roe which are really the only edible part of the animal. I remember watching my parents pry the shells open and getting less than a half a teaspoon of bright orange paste from each crab. A tedious process, definitely. By the time I was an adult, ​talangka fat came in jars sold commercially as crab paste. Just spoon it and enjoy.

The easiest way to enjoy crab paste is to mix it with hot newly-cooked rice. But if you have day-old rice, a few extra steps will yield an even tastier and more aromatic rice dish. Mixing crab paste with aromatics and a little citrus juice gives it added depth of flavor and aroma.

Saute about half a teaspoonful of minced garlic, a quarter teaspoonful of grated ginger and a tablespoonful of finely chopped shallots in about a tablespoonful of oil.

Add a tablespoonful of crab paste and a squirt of kalamansi (or lemon or lime) juice. Taste and add salt, as needed. Throw in two cups of rice and stir fry just until heated through. You may optionally top the fried rice with chopped greens (scallion or parsley works well), fried shallots and toasted garlic bits. 

Now comes the caveat and this is the reason why talangka is not as popular with my generation as it was with my parents' generation. Talangka fat is notoriously high in cholesterol.

Take note, however, that while health and medical literature from the last forty years have drummed into our brains that cholesterol is the culprit behind high blood pressure and risk of heart disease, this thinking is now being debunked. Read: "The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol" and "The Cholesterol Myth That Could Be Harming Your Health".