In the first of a new series we are premiering here at Visitors.sg, we’ll be introducing the greatest and most iconic dish of Singapore’s cuisine, as well as where you can go to have the best chicken rice. Buckle in, and we’ll let you know just what makes this dish a hot favourite not just amongst Singaporeans but also visitors from all over the world.
The Chicken Rice Story
So what, exactly, is chicken rice and how has it risen to its current heights as an iconic Singaporean dish? Well, we’re going to have to journey back in time. Singapore is a land of migrants, and when our forefathers came to Singapore’s shores in search of a better life, they brought with them the cultures, practices and – of course – foods of their homelands.
Among the Chinese diaspora that made its way to Singapore were the Hainanese. Hailing from the province of Hainan, the Hainanese brought with them the chicken rice dish. However, these were made with wenchang chickens, a type of chicken that’s smaller than what is used in Singaporean chicken rice. The rice was also cooked with pork in addition to chicken bone broth. As the dish evolved in Singapore, the influence of other Chinese cuisines such as Cantonese style cooking affected what can now be considered Singapore’s national dish. This begets the all-important question: What makes a good plate of Singaporean chicken rice?
Discerning the Best of the Best
It isn’t difficult to find a stall that sells chicken rice in Singapore, as any food court or hawker centre will have a chicken rice stall. Whether or not the standards of chicken rice live up to expectations, well, that’s a different story.
A good plate of chicken rice consists of three portions: the rice, the chicken and the chilli. Firstly, the rice must be fragrant. As the rice is cooked in chicken fat and chicken stock, it should be flavourful and good enough to eat on its own. The rice grains should be firm but not hard, and separate easily. Visually, the rice should not be white. A slight yellow-brown tint bodes well for the taste.
As for the chicken, you usually have the choice of the classic white chicken or roast chicken. Either way, the flesh should be succulent and tender, but not too greasy. The chicken will be drizzled with soya sauce and sesame oil, which should enhance the taste without overpowering it with saltiness.
Finally, the chilli. Although it is perfectly acceptable to eat chicken rice without the vivid red-orange chilli sauce, you’ll be missing out. Served with grated ginger, chicken rice chilli is a mixture of chilli (sometimes more than one type), ginger, garlic, sesame oil, salt, sugar, lime and vinegar for a spicy-sour kick that nonetheless is balanced enough not to numb the taste buds or overpower the rice and chicken flavours with spiciness.
Now, where should you go to savour the ideal chicken rice? It’s not possible to equivocally declare any chicken rice stall the best, as everyone has slightly different preferences, but isn’t that the fun of foodie experiences? Here are some recommendations with which to begin your chicken rice trail.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
#01-10/11, Maxwell Food Centre
1 Kadayanallur Street
A discussion of Singapore’s chicken rice is not complete without mentioning Tian Tian. Some say it’s the best in Singapore, while others say it isn’t as good as it used to be. It’s famous for a reason, however, and definitely worth a try.
Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant
United Square, 101 Thomson Road, #01-08, Singapore 307645
Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard, #04-102B, Singapore 039594
112 Katong, 112 East Coast Road, #04-01, Singapore 428802
Makansutra Gluttons Bay, 8 Raffles Avenue, #01-15 Stall E, Singapore 039802
Wee Nam Kee has actually expanded operations overseas to Philippines, Japan, Indonesia and Korea. Their chicken rice is consistently tasty, flavourful and hits the spot every time.
Nam Kee Chicken Rice & Restaurant
201 Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574343
This no-frills, family-run restaurant not only dishes up a mean plate of chicken rice, but the other dishes are well worth setting aside stomach space for. Try the you tiao (dough fritters) stuffed with squid, or any of the other dishes that are easily good enough to be eaten as your main.
Lee Fun Nam Kee Soya Sauce Chicken
94 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, #01-04, Singapore 310094
There’s no roast chicken at Lee Fun Nam Kee. Instead, there’s braised soya sauce chicken. The chicken is invariably tender and portions are generous. You can’t go wrong with the roast pork, dumplings and vegetable side dishes either.
255 Upper Thomson Rd, Singapore 574382
Chicken House uses kampung chickens, or free-range chickens. The leaner chickens result in a firmer bite, which some people prefer, and are less oily. Taste, however, is in no way compromised by these yellow skinned chickens.