Where: 1 Kadayanallur Street, Maxwell Food Centre #01-10/11
Opening hours：10am- 8pm, CLOSED ON MONDAY
Stall owner：Foo Kui Lian
Probably our nation’s most famous chicken rice stall, known by both locals and foreigners, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is listed in just about every guidebook on Singapore. Located close to Chinatown, within one of Singapore’s iconic hawker centers – Maxwell Food Centre, Tian Tian might be surrounded by many other famous stalls fighting for attention. Yet it holds its own.
While 67 year-old stall owner Foo Kui Lian is now a familiar public face, making frequent media appearances as spokesperson of the brand, the business was actually started by her elder brother. When he started the chicken rice stall in Maxwell Food Centre in 1987, Foo, who always had an interest in cooking, started learning from him. When he decided to retire two years later, she took over the reins.
When managing the business got too overwhelming, Foo roped in her husband Li Zhi Qing, who was then working as a lorry driver. Through their efforts, Tian Tian became a stall of repute, gradually becoming the food destination that it is today.
“She was previously an accountant and had lots of opportunities to travel for work. I did not expect her to give up her career to help us, but I am very thankful that she did.”
While Foo is now relieved of her responsibilities, she still surveys the central kitchen at 6am every morning, before heading to the Maxwell Food Centre.
THE SECRET’S IN THE SAUCE
Tian Tian’s chicken rice is the product of constant innovation. Foo, who is of Hainanese descent, constantly worked at improving the foundation recipe learnt from her brother. It was through hands-on experience and constant trial and error that she mastered the technique to cooking perfectly tender poached chicken.
American celebrity chef and food program host Anthony Bourdain once commented that the rice from Tian Tian is exceptionally fragrant and flavoursome, and is delicious even on its own. The preparation of the rice is a test of one’s culinary prowess. Apart from knowing the right proportion for the seasoning ingredients, one also has to diligently stir the rice throughout the cooking process.
Foo also reveals another “secret weapon”: their house-made dressing. Most stalls drizzle a mixture of soy sauce and oyster sauce over the chicken rice, but Tian Tian boils their own from a secret recipe. This is drizzled over the poached chicken to lift its flavor, and to bring depth to the entire dish.
The combination of piping hot rice and cool poached chicken eaten with spicy chilli sauce, dark soy sauce and minced ginger makes every mouthful a mélange of flavours and textures. There in lies the charm of Hainanese chicken rice.
While the stall with almost 30 years’ history has plenty of loyal local patrons, the number of tourists visiting Tian Tian have overtaken locals as Singapore’s tourism industry grows. Foo shares that some 70% of the diners come armed with a travel or food guide, and a quick search on the Internet will show that Tian Tian is reviewed by global clientele. in order for the rice to fully absorb the flavours of the stock, and for each grain to be cooked to plump, toothsome perfection.