We couldn’t leave Singapore without having one of its national dishes: Hainanese chicken rice. If you’ve not had this before, you’d be forgiven if you take one look at it and wonder what the big deal about boiled chicken and rice is. Ah, but looks are deceiving. The chicken is poached with plenty of aromatics and the rice is cooked with the resulting stock, rendering it wonderfully fragrant. In Singapore, you get the rice, the chicken, some of the stock served as soup and a chilli sauce and dark soy sauce on the side. It’s absolutely delicious but I never expected to have it twice while I was there!
One night, we headed to Boon Tong Kee, a popular chain of chicken rice restaurants, and though it’s a chain, the chicken rice is rated highly there. As it’s a proper restaurant, they also have a full menu of other dishes as well, lending a bit of variety to the meal. Our very friendly waiter suggested that we try both their chicken versions and so we went with half a Hainanese poached chicken …
… and half a crispy deep fried chicken. This was served with a wasabi dip and very fine salt, both not really necessary. We already had individual sauce dishes of the traditional red chilli, garlic and ginger sauce for the Hainanese chicken. Both chickens were excellent, with the tender poached chicken just edging out the fried one for first place in my books.
Individual bowls of chicken rice (that is, the rice cooked in the chicken stock) were doled out and we started tucking in. I loved their rice – according to the Makansutra guide, each grain is lovingly coated in their secret recipe sauce before cooking.
My colleague chose this stewed pork belly with preserved vegetable, and in doing so, he went up greatly in esteem in the eyes of our waiter. It was everything we expected: a luxuriously fatty bit of pork belly stewed with dark soy with salty preserved mustard greens. It was excellent and a good way of keeping the meal from being too healthy.
Again we ordered bean sprouts with salted fish, a dish common in Singapore and Malaysia but not so common here. This version was excellent but the attention to detail is what impressed me: they’ve picked off the root part of the bean sprouts! This is quite common practice at home over there or at the very least, it was common practice in my home! My mother would buy a huge bag of bean sprouts and then give them to me to pick off the roots. It’s an activity best done in front of the telly.
Another colleague’s order of a stuffed aubergine dish was unavailable (they’d run out) and was replaced with a spicy aubergine hotpot. Despite it being listed under the vegetable section of the menu, there was minced pork within and even better, large chunks of crispy fried pork fat! Now that’s a good claypot dish!
With a drink or two each (I had a homemade barley water!), the meal came to about $100 – so $25 per head. It’s very good for a restaurant meal and one dines in air conditioned comfort here too which is always a plus in Singapore! I believe you can order an individual plate of chicken rice but I don’t know how much this will cost.
Boon Tong Kee
401 Balestier Road (there are other restaurants but this one is supposed to be the best)
In contrast, Tian Tian Chicken Rice is located in the Maxwell Food Centre, an outdoor hawker centre, and this hawker centre just so happens to be one we went to on our last trip here – it’s smack dab in the middle of Chinatown so is perfect for tourists without being too touristy itself. We found ourselves there for lunch again and almost immediately, Mirna joined the humongous queue that led towards the chicken rice stand. You can’t miss it.
The chicken was served off the bone and the meal came with a bowl of chicken stock. The meat is wonderfully flavourful as is the accompanying chilli-garlic-ginger sauce (I like the latter better here). Sadly, the rice was a bit of a let down compared to the one we had at Boon Tong Kee. It was certainly tasty but it was the texture I took issue with; it seemed a little stodgy. There have certainly been reports that they haven’t been very consistent with the quality of their rice as of late.
We also chose a few sides (well, I mostly did as I was feeling greedy) since we were faced with so much variety at this hawker centre. From Tian Tian Chicken Rice as well, Mirna added an order of bok choy with oyster sauce.
From the China Street Fritters stall, I got some ngoh hiang – fried goodies served with a gooey sweet brown sauce and a chilli sauce. I just bought two pieces of the classic five spiced pork rolled in bean curd skin. Crispy outsides and tender, flavourful insides.
A stand for Hainanese curry caught my eye on my first runaround and the nice man running it sold me a fried pork chop smothered in the curry sauce. This was my first time tasting Hainanese curry, which is odd seeing that I developed a minor obsession with it after seeing photos online. Very happily, it lived up to expectations – it’s a thickened, very slightly sweet and quite spicy and I loved it. I’m still looking for a reliable recipe for it!
When I rejoined the queue for the chicken rice with Mirna, I overheard the women behind me talk about getting some rojak with their meal. Rojak! I hadn’t had that in years! They pointed me to the stand and I bought a small plateful of the salad of cucumber, jicama, pineapple and fried Chinese doughnuts tossed in a sticky, spicy, black prawn paste dressing and covered with chopped peanuts. It may not look like much but I absolutely adore it – it’s one of those flavours of home for me.
All this food came to about $15 total, I think, and I was absolutely stuffed at the end. If it’s just the chicken rice you want, a large plate will set you back only $3.30.
Tian Tian Chicken Rice
Maxwell Food Centre