No conversation about Singapore food is complete without mentioning chicken rice, which is one of the country’s national dishes, popular with both locals and tourists. Everyone seems to have their personal take on their go-to places for chicken rice. One of the most ubiquitous food sights are neat rows of chicken that hang in chicken hawker stalls, cafes and casual restaurants around the island. Typically, the dish comprises succulent chicken slices, aromatic and oily rice that is cooked with chicken stock, fat, ginger and pandan leaves, and accompanied by condiments such as dark soya sauce, tangy garlic-chilli and ginger dip.
Chicken rice has its roots from Wenchang chicken, a dish that originated from Hainan Island in Southern China. The chicken, which is bony and fibrous, is cooked by immersing in hot water till it is tender and soft, and eaten with chopped ginger and salt.
Singapore’s chicken rice comes in various forms: steamed, roasted or braised in soya sauce. For the quintessential steamed chicken, the bird is steeped or blanched in hot water before it is soaked in cold water to yield tender meat and a gelatinous-like layer of fat beneath the skin. Roast chicken is typically marinated in soya sauce, ginger juice and honey before it is cooked to yield a crispy brown skin.
Recently, soya sauce chicken has become more prominent, thanks to Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle receiving a MICHELIN star for the past three consecutive years. This style of chicken is braised in soya sauce, herbs and spices. Chicken rice is so popular that it has spawned a Malay version. Nasi ayam goreng has fried Malay-style chicken seasoned in turmeric and chicken stock powder.
About: In 2016, the nondescript Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in Chinatown burst into international spotlight by being one of a handful of hawker or street food stalls to receive a MICHELIN Star. The Ipoh-born chef Chan Hon Meng relocated to Singapore at 15 and developed his recipe for soya sauce chicken after an apprenticeship with a Hong Kong chef. In 2009, he started his stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre. In the stall, the chicken is marinated and braised with soya sauce and 10 types of herbs, and served with sauteed soy beans.
What Our Inspectors Say: Built in 1983 and upgraded in 2008, this is the biggest centre in Singapore, with over 700 stalls, including 226 cooked food stalls, and comes with an authentic Chinese atmosphere. There is always a queue at the stall, which offers Cantonese soy sauce chicken and BBQ pork.
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About: Liao Fan Hawker Chan is the quick-service restaurant chain that started out as the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle stall in Chinatown Complex Food Centre. In late 2016, Chan Hon Meng partnered with food and beverage company Hersing Culinary to operate a restaurant chain. Its outlet at 78 Smith in Chinatown received Bib Gourmand status in 2017. Liao Fan Hawker Chan has expanded overseas to Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, The Philippines and Kazakhstan.
What Our Inspectors Say: What started at a stall in Chinatown Food Centre lead inevitably to Chef Chan going into partnership and opening a restaurant. Equally inevitable is the size of the queue - it forms well before opening time, such is the reputation of his delicious soy sauce chicken rice and roast pork. The new premises may provide more space and seating but, just like back at the hawker centre, you'll be sharing your table with others.
About: One of the long-time stalls in the popular Tiong Bahru Food Centre is Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice, which is started by Cheong Weng Wah in 1988. According to Cheong, he learnt how to cook chicken rice from a friend, who used to work as a cook in Mandarin Orchard Hotel, which is famed for its chicken rice from Chatterbox Restaurant. To achieve a tender and silky-smooth meat, he soaks the blanched chickens in ice water. He also cooks the rice with onion, on top of the usual garlic, spring onion and ginger, to imbue sweetness to the fragrant rice.
What Our Inspectors Say: Located in one of the city's oldest residential areas, this market is one of the most popular hawker centres. There are too many great food items to choose from, like lor mee, porridge and roast chicken. The silky white shui kueh, topped with preserved radish and sauce, is very tempting. Along with the signature Hainanese boneless chicken rice, it offers roasted chicken.
About: The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once proclaimed that the rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is “exceptionally fragrant and flavoursome, and is delicious even on its own”. For owner Foo Kui Lian, who is Hainanese, her secret to cooking plump and flavourful rice lies in nailing the right proportion for the seasoning ingredients and stirring the rice throughout the cooking process. One stand-out factor of Tian Tian’s chicken rice is its house-made “secret” dressing that is drizzled over the poached chicken, instead of the typical mix of soy and oyster sauce. Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, which has three outlets in Singapore, expanded to Hong Kong last year.
What Our Inspectors Say: Don't be surprised to see a long queue — its Hainanese chicken rice is hugely popular.
5. Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice (Bib Gourmand)
About: Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice, which started out at the now-defunct Margaret Drive Food Centre, is known for serving Cantonese-style chicken rice that is immersed in icy water after the bird is cooked to yield a smoother skin with a jelly-like layer beneath it. The meat is also chopped in thick chunks and served with a house-made ginger dip that is grated by hand and uses a combination of young and old gingers. The stall is now run by second-generation owner Benson Leong after a hiatus in 2015.
What Our Inspectors Say: Provides chicken rice with tender and juicy chicken. The home-made grated ginger and chili sauce is appetising. Dine-in only; come early as many dishes are gone by noon.
About: Ah Gong Traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of the handful of chicken rice stalls in the tourist-friendly Newton Circus Food Centre that was featured in the blockbuster film, Crazy Rich Asians last year. This low-profile stall is known for its white chicken.
What Our Inspectors Say: Upgraded and reopened in 2006, this is considered by many as the best hawker centre in the city and is popular with both locals and tourists. There are many signature dishes in the centre, such as BBQ seafood and black pepper crab, so it can be challenging getting a seat during busy periods. Heavenly Hainanese chicken served with chicken oil rice. One chicken feeds four. Set menus are available.
7. Boon Tong Kee (Balestier Road) (MICHELIN Plate)
About: The name Boon Tong Kee is synonymous with chicken rice. The Cantonese-style chicken rice restaurant chain has humble roots as a street stall in Chinatown, before the family business blossomed into a restaurant in Balestier Road in 1983. Today, the family business has grown to six other outlets. The chain is renowned for its poached white chicken that is dunked into boiling water six times to achieve plump and succulent meat.
What Our Inspectors Say: What started with a small stall is now a group of seven restaurants — this two-storey operation with a large kitchen was the first branch to open and has been going for nearly 40 years. At the beginning, it just offered chicken rice, fish head and deep-fried tofu but now it provides a variety of tze char dishes. Singaporeans know their chicken and they know that this is the place to come.
8. People's Park Hainanese Chicken Rice (MICHELIN Plate)
About: Located in People’s Park Complex Food Centre, People's Park Hainanese Chicken Rice serves a variety of Chinese-style roast meat from char siew to sio bak. But its star dish is chicken rice, which is prominently displayed on its signboard. The signature dish is white poached chicken, served with kai lan drizzled with oyster sauce.
What Our Inspectors Say: This two-level building is a favourite spot with local seniors and is conveniently located outside one of the entrances of Chinatown MRT Station. Offers Cantonese roast meats, such as pork chop and duck; and, of course, the signature dish — Hainanese chicken rice.