When you think about Lousiana seafood, is Indonesia the first thing that comes to mind? No?
Granted, Jakarta isn't the most obvious association for Cajun-style cuisine. But there are numerous factors that, once you learn about them, make perfect sense for why the newly arrived The Holy Crab (which is in its soft-opening phase at 1588 Robson Street, taking over a space formerly occupied by a 7-Eleven) hails from a Southeast Asian nation.
The most obvious reason is that Southern American cuisine is a natural fit for Indonesian culinary sensibilities. As an archipelago nation, the Indonesian diet draws upon seafood as one of its major elements. And the spiciness of Louisiana dishes sits well alongside Indonesian curries, sambal, and other mouth-inflaming dishes.
Another reason why seafood-boil eateries blend in well with Indonesian dining etiquette is that many parts of Indonesia traditionally eat with their hands.
Owner and chef Albert Wijaya, visiting from Jakarta for the Vancouver restaurant opening, told the Georgia Straight at his new spot that was one of the reasons why he wanted to bring Louisiana cuisine to Indonesia when he launched the company in 2012.
"Indonesians like to use their bare hands and back in Louisiana, when the fishermen came back from fishing and they gather family and friends, and have a seafood boil, and [they] put it on the table, lay down the newspaper with all the seafood on top, and [they're] just eating with beer, and friends and family," he said. "That's the concept that I wanted to bring—the fun, the happiness, the interaction with families."
Yet another aspect about Indonesian culture is the emphasis on communal experiences. In contrast to Western-style dining in which everyone is served individually, everything about this style of eating, from the food to the array of shelling tools, is shared. Great for families, it's ooey, gooey, and great for taking your stress out on something at the end of the day. As messy as it is, it can also be educational, by helping diners literally get back in touch with what their food looks and feels like in its original, full form, rather than prepared and presented by someone else.
When it comes to the menu, the stars are the Dungeness crab, king crab legs, Nova Scotian lobster, and freshwater crawfish, all sourced and sold per pound according to seasonal rates.
It's all served with either their garlic pepper or Cajun sauce, which is available in varying levels of heat from mild to the scorching "holy moly!". Each main order comes with a side, such as sweet potato fries, sweet corn, fried buns, or steamed rice.
Orders are also accompanied by a plastic bib; shelling tools, such as lobster crackers and special scissors; and a roll of paper towels. (Even with a bib, splatters or dropped food remain possibilities so it's best to avoid wearing your best outfits. There's also a row of sinks to wash your hands at outside the washrooms.)
For those seeking something other than seafood or shellfish, there are also items such as chicken strips, fish fingers, deep-fried chicken wings, onion rings, rolls, and more.
What's unique to the Vancouver menu are deep-fried frog legs and oysters (from Fanny Bay Oysters' Vancouver Island farms).
While they're still waiting for their liquor license (so they can add beer, wine, and cocktails to the menu), there's an extensive list of non-alcoholic drinks that range from strawberry watermelon coolers to sparkling rosemary lemonade.
Vancouver owner and chef Henri William pointed out that what is also important to the Vancouver location is that they want to be as sustainable as possible. For instance, they joined the Vancouve Aquarium's Ocean Wise ocean-friendly seafood program. Also, unlike in Indonesia where their seafood is served in disposable plastic bags, the Vancouver location uses reusable metal tubs and cover their tables with compostable paper laminated with wax.
The high-ceilinged, 2,900 square foot space can seat 84 people, with another eight at the bar, and there'll be an additional 18 seats on the patio in the summer.
Wijaya said that the décor is different from their Indonesian locations and was tailored to a Pacific West Coast aesthetic. He added that there'll be a few more finishing touches added, and the grand opening is tomorrow (February 1). It's the company's first location outside of Indonesia.
As to whether other local spots will follow, we'll have to see how Vancouverites take to this initial foray first. As it stands, it looks like our hands will be quite full for the time being.