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The Best Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore


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Whenever I'm in Singapore, I have always been told that there are two places that serve the best Hainanese chicken rice by two friends with two different backgrounds. The similarity lies upon their passions for finding the best food around.

One of the friend always praises Chatter Box at Mandarin Hotel on Orchard Road. Personally, I love this restaurant because of its location, smackingly right in the middle of the shopping centers. I just go in there for a quick Hainanese chicken rice dish for lunch, and within 30-45 minutes, I'm out and running again to continue my shopping. Foodwise, it's clean and well-balance. The chilly sauce is not spicy enough for my taste, and the chicken itself is less greasy compared to any othe places in Singapore. They are also the award winning restaurant for Hainanese chicken rice.

Another one is the place called Wee Nam Kee on Thomson Road. The chicken is, in my humble opinion, tastier and has a better aroma compared to Chatter Box's chicken, but it's more greasy. The friend that suggested this place hates all chicken rice places in hotels. So I don't know, he is probably biased about dining in the hotel restaurants. According to him, this is where chicken rice in Singapore rotates around. He said when you're talking about chicken rise, you're talking about Wee Nam Kee.

Okay, for those who are from Singapore or have excellent dining experiences in Singapore and know about Hainanese chicken rice, what's the verdict here ? Who's the winner ? Are these places really the best ? Is there any other place out there that we don't know ?

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Hello from Singapore. Chicken rice is a popular dish here, and people can get emotive about their favourite outlets.

Other than Chatterbox and Wee Name Kee, there are the other "Kee's", e.g. Boon Tong Kee, Loy Kee, Peng Kee and all their chains. All the "Kee's" have their own fan clubs. Chatterbox chicken rice cost $18(pre-tax, cess charges etc), while the rest are no more than $5, so the expectation for the Chatterbox version is high. I like Chatterbox, as it was a place we were taken to for treats when we were young children, and the quality is consistent, though the experience seems muted nowadays. I also like Loy Kee and Wee Nam Kee- the rice is more oily but tasty.

Notice the Kee names, well a local sauce maker, happily, coincidentally called Kee's too, sells jars of chicken rice seasoning, which works really well. Just need a teaspoon in your rice to duplicate the taste. So good that I suspect many places out here are using the same sauce.

The latest trend in chicken rice is using Kampung Chicken (literally translated means village chicken, technically it is free-range rather than battery farmed) which yields a more muscular /less fatty meat, also costs twice as much. Two popular outlets are Five Star at Katong, and Chicken House at Tong Bahru. I prefer Five Star, they seemed to have perfected the rice and chicken.

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I very much resisted eating at Chatterbox, because the whole notion of fancy-hotel versions of street food struck me as phony. But finally, after pretty much everybody told me it was the best, I gave in. And it was excellent. The fact of the matter is that they use better ingredients (e.g., specially raised chickens from a specific farm in Malaysia) and focus more on the technique (the stock-making process is highly refined) than the hawkers do -- and they charge enough to be able to do that.

Singapore is now a blur, and I can't remember which hawker center was which, but one of the best chicken rice specimens I had was way the heck out near one of the residential developments. Our local contact had indicated that the rice-ball style of chicken rice was preferred by many in-the-know gourmets, but could only be found out in the boonies. This turned out to be an excellent product -- the rice was the best I had. The chicken itself was not as impressive.

Our photos from Singapore are a bit of a mess, and Ellen is inaccessible right now so I can't be sure what these all are, but I think these first two are just your standard downtown hawker center versions:

cr1.jpg

and

cr2.jpg

Then this one here is one of the upscale renditions, either at Chatterbox or maybe Wee Nam Kee:

cr3.jpg

And this is the cool one with the rice ball:

cr4.jpg

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The chicken in the first two pictures are not the regular "white-cut" chicken that is the default choice. These chicken were probably roasted. "White-cut" chicken (literal translation) means chicken was plunged into boiling water, and the heat is turned off so the chicken is allowed to cook slowly in the hot water until done. The chicken skin would remain yellow. Some stalls may offer the roast with the boiled version, but for proper roast chicken, we prefer the Cantonese-style roast meat places.

The third dish looks like the Chatterbox version. They use their menu as placemats. For your next visit, you may like to keep in mind that the rice is refillable. I usually ask for the thigh meat which is less tough.

Chicken rice balls- if you go to Malacca, a state in Malaysia (3 hrs by car from S'pore), the Malaccans claim they invented this dish. The balls are shaped by machines now, in the past they use hands. Personally, I prefer my rice less "handled".

Edited by tonkichi (log)
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The second photo does look roasted; the first one looks poached but seems to have sauce on it. I don't actually remember eating any roasted chicken, so it's possible that's a photograph of what someone else in my group ordered (most of the time there were 3 of us).

The rice-balls I had were most definitely hand-made. They were formed, then wrapped in leaves or some such, and then steamed that way. I found that it provided an additional level of texture on top of the already present flavor, so I weigh in favor of that preparation.

For those of you following along, the rice component of the dish is a big deal: a lot of the purists will tell you the chicken itself is secondary. The rice is cooked so as to absorb the chicken stock, but the flavor can be overlooked if you're not tuned into it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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the first one looks poached but seems to have sauce on it.

maybe it was "si-yau kai" or chicken poached in soy sauce/anise/5-spice etc. the cooking liquid is thickened with cornstarch and poured over the chicken as gravy.

Edited by tonkichi (log)
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Have any of the New Yorkers on the thread tried the version served at the Malaysia restaurant off the Bowery? They serve the white chicken, and although it can be a little chewy, I think they get the flavors about right. I'm not suggesting it's up there with the best in Singapore, but it resembles versions I ate at hawkers' markets.

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The third picture definitely looks like the Hainanese Chicken Rice from Chatter Box.

Sounds like you people agree that Chatter Box is the king of all chicken rice restaurants in Singapore.

I should try it again on my next trip to Singapore in May and reconfirm.

I really don't think any of the NY Malaysian restaurants come even close to the real thing in Singapore/Malaysia. I think I've been to Nyonya, Penang, and some other ones in and around Manhattan, including Flushing. They're okay if you are craving for Hainanese chicken rice but it's definitely not something you will find in Singapore or Malaysia.

Why ? Because the chicken they use in US is different from the chickens used

in its original place. The aroma is just not the same in terms of intensity and sweetness in flavor.

The meat tastes differently, very blent and sometimes very dry as you chew deeper into it.

The sauce is not even good, and they don't have the same sharpness, tanginess and aroma as

the ones you find in SEA. But I think the major complaint is the chicken because that's the key of this dish, even the broth tastes slightly different, and this also affects the rice itself.

Edited by yummee (log)
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It would be interesting to try to make the dish at home in the US, using really good chickens from D'Artagnan or another premium supplier.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It would be interesting to try to make the dish at home in the US, using really good chickens from D'Artagnan or another premium supplier.

my dad made an interesting comment the other night that applies here:

chicken in the US tends to have lots of meat, but no flavor.

chicken in China tends to have tons of flavor but no meat.

(if you've ever seen those chickens running around, you'll understand.

any of the chickens I've seen in the US are probably at least twice the size of one from China.)

Raised for size, I imagine because sold by the pound.

But in China, not enough healthy stuff+nutritional enhancements to grow the chickens as much.

free range chicken like D'Artagnan is probably the happy medium, but I've never seen them.

Never tasted them either, to my knowledge.

I should actually try some D'Artagnan chicken to actually see what it's like.

Of course, that would necessitate me actually ordering chicken when I'm in a restaurant, as I tend to try the more interesting meats or a fish.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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It would be interesting to try to make the dish at home in the US, using really good chickens from D'Artagnan or another premium supplier.

We've done more then once and it's great. I like buying meat from the people that grow the critters, so I bypass the whole premium supplier deal, but the best one we ever did was one where we used an old layer to make the stock and a roasting hen for the meat. These were bought from one of our favorite farmers in Illinois. You can read about what I did here. I don't get into making good clear stock because the people I was talking to already knew how. I expect you may as well.

regards,

trillium

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A note on the rice-balls - they were not invented by the Malaccans.

Hainan (which means South Sea) Island's traditional livelihood was fishing and farming - rice was formed into balls simply because it is easier to eat it out in the fields - it saves the hassle of having to bring along chopsticks.

Some Hainanese families in Malaysia and Singapore still make these rice balls for prayer offerings on Qing Ming (Chinese All Souls Day).

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  • 4 months later...

Hi guys! As a bit of a chicken rice nut I pine after my fix and thank my lucky stars every time I get to go back to Singapore as it means I will be flying home wearing my "special pants" - you know, the ones a size up from usual. (teehee)

I found a site that purports to hold up a number of the best chicken rice places on the island; here it is:

http://www.makantime.com/quest.htm

If you guys ever get to Singapore, you'll have to try a few/some/all of these :biggrin:

I always order some of the chicken liver on the side, and plenty of the special chilli sauce - the liver is so smooth and flavourful after being poached with the chicken!

" ..Is simplicity the best

Or simply the easiest

The narrowest path

Is always the holiest.. "

--Depeche Mode - Judas

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I always order some of the chicken liver on the side, and plenty of the special chilli sauce - the liver is so smooth and flavourful after being poached with the chicken!

My perfect chicken rice meal must consist of the following:

- mix of dark and white meat, poached chicken

- side of liver and crunchy gizzards

- parboiled bean sprouts with light soya sauce

- accompaniment of chili sauce, ginger and thick dark soya sauce.

On thing I did notice missing in all of Fat Guy's pictures was a topping of cilantro on the chicken. Use to hate them when I was younger but now just love them for dipping into the chili sauce and soya sauce.

By the way is it common to have thick Soya sauce (sweet?) over the chicken in singapore as in the first pic?

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<

Yes, I was wondering this as well, after having the dish at a fine local (in Saigon) Malaysian restaurant. Monday is Hainan chicken rice day, and the choice was steamed or roasted (I chose steamed). I was surprised when the chicken showed up with this light brown goo ladled over it (have not yet had the pleasure of eating the dish at the source in Sing or Malaysia, unfortunately). I didn't mind it, but I didn't feel it added anything overall. Can the dish be ordered in Sing and Malaysia goo-less and, if so, what are the magic words?

This may be blasphemy to lovers of original style HCR but I love the version you get in Bangkok -- no sauce over it, a wee bit on the greasy side, and one of the dipping sauces is ginger/soy/chopped phrik kee nuu, incendiary. The soup usually has chunks of winter melon in it. Blood on the side is optional.

Re: discussion of chickens in US and China ---- the very best roast chicken(s) I've ever made (with rosemary), hands down, are the ones I used to make in Shanghai. Chinese chickens have such a deeply bird-y flavor, and I never felt I was sacrificing quantity of meat. No chicken I've roasted in the US has come close, in flavor, to those Chinese birds.

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is it common to have thick Soya sauce (sweet) over the chicken?

Yes, I was wondering this as well, after having the dish at a fine local (in Saigon) Malaysian restaurant. Monday is Hainan chicken rice day, and the choice was steamed or roasted (I chose steamed). I was surprised when the chicken showed up with this light brown goo ladled over it (have not yet had the pleasure of eating the dish at the source in Sing or Malaysia, unfortunately). I didn't mind it, but I didn't feel it added anything overall. Can the dish be ordered in Sing and Malaysia goo-less and, if so, what are the magic words?

Some chicken rice stalls ladle a gooey mixture of oyster sauce, soy sauce and oil on top of steamed chicken. There is also a non-gooey mixture of just soy sauce and oil. Guess it's supposed to improve the smoothness of the meat and skin. You can tell them "no gravy (chaap in Cantonese)" when you place your order.

The usual dipping sauce served at most chicken rice stalls is a chilli, ginger and garlic sauce. Only the posher places serve the trio of dipping sauces of chilli, ginger & garlic sauce; thick soya sauce; and plain ginger & garlic sauce (without chilli).

ecr - I managed to go to some of your Saigon recommendations and they were delicious - will post in the other forum once I organise my notes.

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The ones most favoured by some of us at makansutra are:

1. Peng Kee at Balestier Rd. Old-fashioned Hainanese style. Operated by an elderly couple. Lunch only. Flavoursome chicken, minimum garnishes/soy/ fragrant oil typical of Cantonese style. Side order of sambal squid.

2. Sergeant Chicken Rice at Novenaville. The stall operator claimed to be the original cook from the Mandarin Hotel outlet. Don't know how true, but the chicken is really tasty. Rice is not as rich as Mandarin's but since we are on a lo-carbo wave right now, we can overlook this.

3. For those who must have "kampung" (village) style chicken rather than battery-farmed ones, the choices are still Five Star at Katong, and Chicken House at Tiong Bahru Rd.

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YUM Now we're talkin'...gotta love HCR. Having transplanted back to the US from S'pore three years ago, there's not a day goes by that I don't wish I had some good chicken rice. And even with lessons from many locals, including Violet Oon, my chicken rice just isn't the same. *sigh*

Tho Chatter Box is very tasty, it IS offensively expensive....my favorite place (and I'm drawing a blank on the name of the shop) served sublime HCR, in the same style as CB, for a fraction of the cost. It's located on Upper East Coast Road and Parbury Avenue.

Another favorite, on the same genre, was the fabulous duck rice served in a small venue on Bukit Timah, across from Beauty World. Can anyone help with the names of these wonderful eateries? And please stop in and have a bite for me?? :laugh:

In everything satiety closely follows the greatest pleasures. -- Cicero

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I've enjoyed HCR for 38 years. Eaten in Singapore, Maylasia, Thailand , China and Hong Kong and for the past 5 years in Seattle. tried other places in the States that attempt the dish, but the "Malay Satay Hut", with locations in Seattle and Redmond, Wa. consistantly makes one of the best i've eaten. This includes almost every place that serves it in Hong Kong and over 30 in Singapore, i'm really surprised about the praise given to the Mandarin Hotel. where i've been told they use Imported Chickens, not fresh local. The four dishes they serve at the Maylay Hut that are most popular with Singaporian's are Fish Head Soups in many ways, Roti, live "Chili Crab"and HCR. So if your visiting Seattle, please give it a try. Many Student's from Singapore agree about the Chicken.

I don't say that I do. But don't let it get around that I don't.

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I've enjoyed HCR for 38 years. Eaten in Singapore, Maylasia, Thailand , China and Hong Kong and for the past 5 years in Seattle. tried other places in the States that attempt the dish, but the "Malay Satay Hut", with locations in Seattle and Redmond, Wa. consistantly makes one of the best i've eaten. This includes almost every place that serves it in Hong Kong and over 30 in Singapore,

WOW, this is a mighty bold statement! Care to elaborate on why you think so? :hmmm:

Any other HCR devotees care to chime in on "Malay Satay Hut's" quality compared to the hardcore places in Asia?

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I have been following the discussion with a lot of interest as a devotee of Singapore, Kualur Lumpur and Bangkok variations of Hainanese chicken. But I have to add my comments about the claims relating to the Malay Satay Hut.

I visit Seattle often. I was there in April and revisted a couple of weeks ago. During that visit I made another visit to the Malay Satay Hut. I was surprised on ordering that the owner moved us to a bigger table and said that he rarely got anyone in the restaurant who ordered the 'genuine' Malay dishes! (We had asked for ikan bilis and fried pigs intestines as well as the chicken and the rendang so we didn't think our order was very unusual.)

Now the chicken was good and the rendang was OK. The roti was excellent. But you could hardly claim that the chicken even 'touched the raiment' of similar dishes we have tried in Singpaore and Kualur Lumpur (or in Australia for that matter).

The meal was good, the service was lovely but it was good food not great food.

Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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