WHAT IT IS
It’s just a plate of rice and chicken. But it’s also NOT JUST a plate of rice and chicken. It packs in a whole lot of flavor, making it the national dish of Singapore. It’s even more popular than the other Singapore food icon: Chili Crab.
Essentially, it is poached sliced chicken, served with rice cooked in chicken broth, drizzled with soy sauce; with 2 sauces on the side: ginger sauce and chili sauce.The rice is flavorful, the chicken is juicy and the sauce is spicy. A huge dose of flavor in every mouthful.
Hainanese chicken rice is Singapore’s culinary treasure. But it has a humble and ancient beginning, with recipes dating back to over 400 years. Every Singaporean household has their own version of the chicken rice.
Are there any grandmothers who are willing to share their family’s secret? Probably not. So I did the research.
Chicken rice is referred to as Hainanese chicken rice because in originated in Wenchang, northeast of Hainan Island. There were a lot of banyan trees on Hainan island, and the seeds of the banyan trees are very rich in nutrients, chicken used to feed on these seeds and hence the chicken meat so juicy and the rice so flavorful.
According to the Qing Dynasty (1636 -1911 AD), the secret to creating the best chicken rice was to cut out the rooster’s kidney and transplant it into the hen’s abdomen. What!?! Yeah, glad they didn’t have social media in those days. This is how the meat gets its characteristic flavor. This is an ancient method though; over the years it has been simplified.
What do legendary food chef and professional eater Anthony Bourdain (also my personal hero) have to say about it?
Anthony Bourdain is credited for putting the Hainanese chicken rice on the global food map. He said the broth by itself is bland, but once the rice is cooked in the broth, it is aromatic and flavorful and “good enough to eat on its own.” He tried the chicken rice at the Tian Tian stall; this is the one I tried as well. #best
Tian Tian stall is located in Maxwell food centre, in Chinatown. Head down the road from the tooth relic temple. Very close the Chinatown station on the metro line.
HOW IT’S MADE
The excess fat from the chicken is removed and kept separately. Then the chicken is gutted, stuffed with ginger, garlic, spring onion, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. Then the chicken is put in a large pot of water, brought to a boil, and then simmered.
The reserved chicken fat is out into a hot pan, with chopped spring onion and garlic. Jasmine rice and sometimes pandan leaf are then cooked in this mixture. The broth from the simmered chicken in then added to the rice mixture and cooked till tender.
HOW TO EAT
You eat it with 2 sauces: a green chili sauce; made with grated green chili, salt, garlic, spring onion and hot oil or the red chili garlic sauce. For a huge bite of flavor, eat with both condiments. Experience true happiness. Report back to Second Breakfast headquarters. 😉
There are many variations of the dish. In Thailand, it is called Khao man kai, which literally translates to oiled rice with chicken. In Malaysia, barbecued chicken is served with rolled rice balls. In Vietnam, they have a version with grilled pork or chicken served with rice and pickled vegetables; more commonly with pork, called com tam; rice being the mainstay and very important in many cuisines across Southeast Asia.
But Singapore chicken rice is the true legend. Every different area has its own twist to the dish. Some of my Singapore friends talk of memories of eating chicken rice when they came back home from school. And as an adult, stepping out of their air-conditioned offices to eat chicken rice in various food joints around the city for lunch.
WHERE TO EAT
Tian Tian chicken rice at the Maxwell food center
Best of them all. No need to say more!
Price: SGD $5
Timings: 11 am to 8 pm, closed if sold out!
How to get there: Hop off at the Chinatown station on the Metro and walk 10 minutes to the tooth relic temple. It’s 2 minutes from the temple, you will see the sign.
Lau Pa Sat Market
This place just rules! Housed in an old colonial building are dozens of food stalls. Eat your food with a view of the Singapore skyline.
Price: SGD $3 to 10
Timings: Open 24 hours, or until sold out!
How to get there: Take the purple line MRT to Raffles place station and a few minutes walk from there.
Chin Chin Eating House
Apparently, this version garnished with a generous amount of coriander and this would definitely be high on my list for my next visit to Singapore.
Price: SGD $12
Timings: 7 am to 9 pm
How to get there: Very close to the City Hall station on the MRT
This little place in Chinatown was the first place in Asia to win a coveted Michelin star. A street food cart: winning a recognition from the Michelin thingy, what #goals. It is the pride of Singapore. Since then it has become little more than a street cart, there is a small restaurant style place to sit. It is always packed! They serve the chicken with both rice and noodles. I tried the noodle one, as the chef told me that the noodle version won the star. The noodles are the best I’ve ever tasted; so perfectly flavorful and cooked perfectly. The chicken is, of course, to die for.
Price: SGD $3
Timings: 10 am to 7 pm
How to get there: Hop off the Chinatown metro station; it’s 2 minutes away. Head to Smith Street. Look for the long snaking queue and Get. In. Line, my friend, it’s gonna take a while.
Fun story: When we were in line we met a couple: South African lady and Californian Gentleman. We started chatting with them and then we ate together. They have like 5 dogs. Oh well, I guess we have to go to South Africa now.How to get there: Hop off the Chinatown metro station; it’s 2 minutes away. Head to Smith Street. Look for the long snaking queue and Get. In. Line, my friend, it’s gonna take a while.
The Singapore chicken rice is definitely on my list one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Have you tried it in Singapore or elsewhere? I would love to know, tell me in the comments below.