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a plate of tamarind crab next to a claw and two sprigs of cilantro
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5 from 7 votes

Vietnamese tamarind crabs

My mom’s Vietnamese tamarind crabs pack a flavor punch with every morsel of sweet crab meat imbued with tang from the tamarind, heat from the bird’s eye chili, and umani from the fish sauce.
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Vy Tran


  • 4 pounds live rock crabs
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 cup tamarind sauce
  • 4 bird’s eye chili, sliced and extra for serving
  • ¼ cup basil leaves
  • ¼ cup cilantro

Tamarind Sauce

  • 1 cup tamarind water
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup sugar

Tamarind water

  • 4 ounces tamarind paste
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling water


  • To make the tamarind water, soak the tamarind paste in boiling water for 5 minutes breaking up any chunks with a spoon. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Pass the mixture through a sieve to get the tamarind water.
  • To make the tamarind sauce, in a bowl whisk together tamarind water, fish sauce, and sugar until well combined.
  • To prepare the crabs for steaming, freeze the crabs for 1 hour to immobilize them. 
  • Put the crabs in a large pot. Add about an inch of water. Close the lid and steam them for 8-10 minutes. Remove the crabs from the pot with tongs. Give them a rinse under cool water to clean all the debris off. 
  • With the heat turned up to high, in a large wok, add the oil, garlic, scallions, and shallots. Saute over medium heat for 1 minute or until fragrant.
  • Decrease the heat to medium-high. Add the peppercorns and crabs and toss for 2 minutes.
  • Pour the tamarind sauce over the crabs and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Add 2 tbsps basil leaves and chilis and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Remove the crabs and transfer them to a serving plate.
  • Let the sauce cook on high heat for 10 minutes until it reduces and becomes thicker.
  • Pour the sauce over the crabs. Garnish with more basil, chili, and cilantro and serve immediately.