SINGAPORE: Hainanese chicken rice has come a long way since Mr Wang Yiyuan brought the dish to Singapore from China in the 1920s. Wang is said to have sold chicken rice balls wrapped in banana leaves for one cent a packet as an itinerant hawker along Hylam Street and moved his business into a coffeeshop on the same street following World War II.
Considered one of Singapore’s national dishes today, good chicken rice is typically a coffeeshop or street away no matter where on the island you are. Everyone has their favourites, from stalwarts like Boon Tong Kee and Wee Nam Kee, to Five Star Kampung Chicken Rice to Viet Con and Tian Tian.
We’ve put together a list of another five purveyors whose versions we recently enjoyed.
POW SING KITCHEN
Those who grew up in the Serangoon Gardens enclave have a nostalgic affinity to Pow Sing Restaurant. What is now a full-service eatery serving Nonya food started out as a coffeeshop stall selling chicken rice in the same location. The dish lives on in the air-conditioned comfort of the restaurant today, with the same punchy chilli sauce, succulent poached chicken, and mildly flavoured rice. Old-time regulars say the roasted chicken is the way to go. With crisp lacquered skin over plump meat, it is best eaten with a gentle spritz of lime and a lashing of ginger sauce over the not too oily rice.
59 Serangoon Garden Way, tel: 6284 0800
This is one polarising plate of chicken rice. Those who love it wax lyrical about the crunchy yellow skin and lean succulence of the kampung chicken meat (kampung chickens, while not free-range, are leaner and smaller). There is little discernible fat below the skin. They also love the well-separated grains of rice with a distinct bite. Those who don’t love it think the rice is tough and not fragrant enough. To them, the lack of fat in the meat is a deal breaker. The verdict: Try it if you like your chicken lean and rice al dente.
226 East Coast Road, tel: 6440 0108. www.chickenhouse.getz.co
ZI JIN HAINANESE BONELESS CHICKEN RICE
This chicken rice boasts the tastiest chap (sauce) in town – deeply savoury and redolent of soy. Chicken rice purists might baulk at the sheer depth of flavour in this sauce-drenched version, but we love that the chicken is luscious and the chilli sauce balanced with just the right amount of kick. Admittedly, the rice can sometimes be a tad soft, particularly if you get served when it is freshly cooked, but that’s a small sacrifice in our books. Be sure to order a side of chicken livers – the owner cooks it to creamy perfection.
Alexandra Village Food Centre, 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-15
DELICIOUS BONELESS CHICKEN RICE
Get past the almost lurid yellow-hued rice (naturally dyed using yellow ginger) and you’ll enjoy plump chickens flavoured with lots of soy and sesame oil at this East Coast stalwart. Go for the roasted chicken, with toasty tender skin and juicy, perfectly cooked flesh. We like the scrim of fried garlic sprinkled over the chicken, as well as the all-you-can-eat achar (pickled vegetables). The complimentary soup of the day (think peanut and pork rib, lotus root, or watercress) is a great-value bonus.
Katong Shopping Centre Stall 3, 865 Mountbatten Road, #B1-85/87
XING YUN HAINANESE BONELESS CHICKEN RICE
We are impressed by the delicious simplicity of this rendition. Every aspect of the dish is exemplary: Tender poached chicken saturated with the aroma of soy and sesame, succulent grains of rice redolent of ginger and chicken fat, and a spicy chilli sauce to cut through the richness. If you find yourself in the island’s far west, this stall is worth the trek.
Stall 202 Yuhua Market and Food Centre, 347 Jurong East Avenue 1