Black Tonnarelli with Shore Crab Roe & Shrimp

Locally known as taba ng talangka in the Philippines, it is translated as crab fat which is actually a misnomer because it is not made of fat but of crab roe. This shore crab roe paste is something peculiar that comes from Pampanga, a region bordered by a river which is the shore crabs' habitat. These crabs are very small and to fill up a small bottle takes a big sack of them. But nowadays, the bottles you find are rarely pure. They are already mixed with starch. I never really tasted the ones straight from the crabs themselves anyway so I wouldn't know the difference but this blogger did. 

The crab roe are sold pre-cooked in oil, salt & calamansi (calamondin) juice before being bottled. It is best represented in a simple dish in which the crab roe paste is sauteed in oil with garlic and a squeeze or two of calamansi mixed with hot boiled white rice. That is how I usually enjoy this delicacy and that is how I had been eating it the past two days. God forbid, I have to stop eating like there's no tomorrow! How did I end up with this bottle(s) anyway? A long-time friend from school sent them to me, along with a big bag of goodies from the Philippines. I think her main aim is to make me fat under the guise of being thoughtful.  Tsk! Tsk!

Sometimes we remember friendships in the most unlikely things.  This friend remembers me well with a bottle of orange crab roe.  How unglamorous! And I remember her well with a bowl of chicken soup. It has been twenty years and we can still pick up where we left off like there was no interruption of years in between. I have to say that with these two decades of being friends, she has never left my side through pains & triumphs.  She is one of my foundations in this blog, ever supportive. Being a professional creative writer,  I hang on to whatever she thinks.  I can go on about what a great friend she is but she's one person who cannot stand mush.  Sigh.

While there are good friends who support you, there are also some who pull you down when they realize you are doing something meritable.   It's called crab mentality and it is associated with this kind of crab based on one of their habits.  The term was derived from the way these small shore crabs try to escape imprisonment in containers while trying to claw their way out.  Each crab pulls down the crab who is a bit higher than them making it almost impossible to go out of the container.

When I started this blog, I started to see both kinds of friends.   On one side, I feel unconsolably hurt when this crab mentality weasels its way between me and people I had considered friends.  On the other hand, I get the inspiration and energy to go on from the supportive words of genuine friends, old & new, virtual & real.  I am a simple person, and as much as I try to contemplate about this menacing mentality, I cannot comprehend the simple question, why?  I'm sure I am not alone in this boat and that a lot of us have these crabs in our lives clawing us down. I guess there's nothing to do but just to stay away from their reach and climb higher.

Now back to the real crabs. Ten kilos heavier after, with that big bag of goodies almost depleted by me alone, I finally got to settle down and compose this dish that speaks of the fusion of two different cuisines together. Mixing the shore crab roe paste with pasta is becoming more familiar in the Philippine kitchen.  I had some tonnarelli al nero di seppia (tonnarelli with the black ink of cuttlefish) waiting in my cupboard for a perfect opportunity and I thought that this is the best candidate for my shore crab roe & shrimp sauce. I could have used any pasta really but I thought the color would go well with the vividness of the crab roe paste, shrimp & parsley.

Black Tonnarelli with Shore Crab Roe & Shrimp

Serves 4
  • 400 grams (black) tonnarelli al nero di seppia or any long pasta
  • 500 grams shrimp, shelled & deveined (heads saved)
  • 1 (230-gram) bottle of shore crab roe (taba ng talangka)
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 calamansi lemon or 1/4 regular lemon, juice (optional)
  • parsley (optional), chopped finely
  1. Boil some water in a pot for the pasta.  When it boils, add some salt.  Put the pasta and  cook according to the number of minutes indicated in the package.
  2. Meantime, while waiting for the water to boil, prepare the sauce.
  3. Sautè the garlic in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.  When they turn brown, take them away & discard.  
  4. Add the shrimp heads and press them lightly to take out the juices.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  
  5. Add the shrimp and cook for about 10 minutes or until they turn brownish.  Remove all the shrimp heads and discard.
  6. Put down the fire.  Add the crab roe.  Add the lemon juice (optional).  Cook for 5 minutes.  
  7. Add the cooked pasta and mix well with the sauce.  Toss for a couple of minutes.  Turn off fire.  Sprinkle with some parsley (optional) & drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  
  8. I didn't add any more salt because the sauce is already tasty.