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Nov 9, 2010 12:18 AM

Singapore - Best Hainanese Chicken Rice?

My personal favorite Hainanese chicken rice spot in Singapore? That over-priced one from Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard. I know, it's a travesty - to eat "hawker food" in a 5-star hotel and pay 5 times what you'd need to pay outside. But I can't help it!

But hold on, every Singaporean will undoubtedly have their own personal preference. Yes, despite the fact that Singapore's Hainanese chicken rice, no matter which outlet you get it from, will have the characteristic, subtle ginger-shallot-garlic-pandan smell. The rice grains will be deliciously coated with chicken fat, and taste like manna. The accompanying chicken, usually poached, will have that perfect, gelatinous skin, and the meat will have been cooked to a perfect done-ness. And you'd normally get 3 types of accompanying dips: a bright, orangey-red chilli-garlic-lime dip, the minced ginger dip, and the thick soysauce dip.

Anyway, I decided to try Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stall at #01-10 Maxwell Road Food Centre, today. This stall was SO popular - it's been voted as serving the best Hainanese chicken rice in numerous surveys conducted here, and had even been mentioned as having the "best chicken rice in the world" by Anthony Bourdain and Tetsuya Wakuda.

Warning: the waiting time in the queue at the stall can be more than 30 minutes during peak meal periods. For lunch, try to be here by 11.30am.

My take: The rice was tasty, perfect texture. Taste-wise, not as fragrant as my Chatterbox favorite, nor my other favored spot: Yet Con on Purvis Street (which I should post on later). Chicken was also quite nice, but not as sweet & tasty as I'd expect "kampung" (village) chicken to be.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice Stall
#01-10 Maxwell Road Food Centre
Mobile: 9691-4852
Operating hours: 11am to 8pm (Tue-Sun). Closed Mondays.

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  1. Forget about Bourdain and Wakuda, what do they know about Hainanese Chicken Rice when they hardly spend anytime in Singapore?

    I have not found a "perfect" Hainanese Chicken Rice place. I judge the dish by its chicken, the rice and the dipping sauce (mainly chilli and the ginger). And it seem like there is still something missing in all my favorite places. Overall, I probably like the Chatterbox and Wee Nam Kee (but don't try its other dishes) at Thomson Rd better than others.

    Re Tian Tian: just like you , I like the rice but not the chicken. I have no idea why many voted this as the best stall. But unlike you, I don't really like Yet Con though I have not been back there for a long time.

    Re chicken meats: I actually like the Hainanese Delicacy in the 4th floor of Far East Plaza. Also for Kampung chicken, I like Chicken House at 255 Upper Thomson Rd. I used to like Sin Kee at Margaret Dr and Boon Toon Kee but I find the meat to be too fatty now.

    Re Bird Bird at Balmoral Plaza: not exactly Hainanese style, but the fragrant rice and home made chilli sauce always get my top vote here. But unfortunately, the chicken meat can be inconsistent.

    7 Replies
    1. re: FourSeasons

      Ah, Four Seasons, you have the same taste as me! I also liked Big Bird at Balmoral Plaza - their chilli sauce is so "pedas" / super-hot! There used to be a Big Bird outlet in Park Lane Shopping Centre, Selegie Rd, but seems to have closed down. Now, I only go to adjacent Sunshine Plaza for wanton noodles.

      I also like Wee Nam Kee at Novena although their food can be a bit too oily at times. Wee Nam Kee is very popular amongst expat Filipinos in Singapore, maybe started because many Filipinos who worshipped at the popular Novena Catholic Church will lunch there afterwards. Recently, Wee Nam Kee has opened a branch in Manila.

      I also like Nam Kee in Upper Thomson Road.

      1. re: FourSeasons

        Four Seasons, I realised that I liked Yet Con (my all-time fave Hainanese eating spot in Singapore) not so much for its chicken, nor its "famous" roast pork drizzled with black sweet molasses, but for its stir-fried, to-die for Hainanese dishes: Singapore-style Hainanese pork chop (battered & crisp-fried pork chops drizzled with light-brown gravy studded with potato wedges, oions & peas), fish maw & white cabbage stir-fry (replete with chicken livers, shrimps, squid & other surprising little morsels), stir-fried tung hoon in dark soysauce with cuttlefish & chives, seafood omelette, etc. Nowhere else in Singapore can you find these Hainanese dishes done so well. And we can choose to have chicken-flavored rice to go with these dishes instead of plain rice.

        1. re: klyeoh

          Some photos taken at my recent lunch at the 70-year-old Hainanese stalwart, Yet Con (yes, it's established in 1940):
          - Poached chicken
          - Roast pork, drizzled with sweet molasses and served with pickled sweet-salty mustard
          - Clear chicken soup with tofu bits, served gratis with every order
          - THE CHICKEN RICE!
          - Stir-fried fish maw, white (Napa) cabbage, seafood, chicken liver, eggs & other stuff
          - Egg omelette with seafood & vegetables
          - Stir-fried tung hoon (bean-thread/glass noodles) with seafood, cuttlefish & chives.

          Also posting view of the restaurant, and the chicken-chopper upfront.

          Address details:
          Yet Con
          25 Purvis St
          Tel: 6337 6819
          Operating hours: 10am to 10pm (Daily)

        2. re: FourSeasons

          Sounded just like me - trying to find the ultimate perfect HK Wonton noodle!!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            I guess there is NO satisfying us Chowhounds :-) And we all have different tastes/preferences. For e.g., I couldn't take the chilli dip from Big Bird (favored by Four Seasons) because it exceeds my chilli-tolerance level by a few hundred thousand SHUs on the Scoville scale!

            1. re: klyeoh

              Surprise, surprise, considering your Peranakan background, I thought your chilli-tolerance level is high.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                Must be my growing up years in Australia, away from Nyonya cooking.

        3. I grew up eating Hong Kong style Hainan Chicken Rice, so after a trip to Nam Ah in Causeway Bay (before they moved and were still on Leighton Road) in 1999 I was instantly hooked again. That summer, I too went to Chatterbox at the Mandarin hotel which a Singapore newsgroup (can't remember the exact name) people also highly recommended, in addition to one at Newton Hawker Center...guess I wasn't used to the flavor and did not think too much about Chatterbox's then, but it was an interesting experience. At least it was in elegant and comfortable surrounding (unlike Newton which at the time was completely outdoors). I suppose that is akin to paying $$$ for beef noodle soup at Yuan Shan hotel in Taipei when a $ bowl may outsmoke it.

          Some bloggers think Boon Tong Kee (?) is good, and I have to say the pyramid chicken rice looks quite elegant, if only visual. How is it?

          Do they charge more for dark or white meat at Hainan Chicken Rice places in Singapore? Some Singaporean/Malaysian restaurants in the US charge more for dark meat. Sadly not even worth the bother either way.

          5 Replies
          1. re: K K

            Hainanese chicken rice in HK which I'd tried certainly tasted different from Singapore ones. I understand that it's also very different (and much more robust) on Hainan island itself, where it's known as Wenchang chicken rice.

            I quite liked Boon Tong Kee's chicken rice, too, but only at their River Valley Road outlet. Somehow, the taste or style of cooking at the other outlets are not quite the same, e.g. the Cheong Chin Nam Road outlet which is only 10 minutes from my home.

            They do charge more for dark meat here. I prefer white meat, but most Chinese much preferred the dark meat, hence the premium prices. At Tian Tian, they'll charge, say, S$3.50 for a plate of chicken rice topped with white meat, but S$4.50 for dark meat.

            1. re: K K

              I can understand that CharlesYu (comment on the other thread started by Lau, perhaps both threads should merge since it is dealing with the same topic) and KK are not so used to the texture of chicken meat here since they are so used to the free range chicken meat in Hong Kong. But for me, I would assign only 20-30% weighting on the chicken meat. The highlight for me is actually the rice (50%) and the chilli/ginger sauce (20-30%) for this dish.

              1. re: FourSeasons

                I think part of the reason some Hong Kongers aren't as used to the flavor is because of the varying types of a similarly prepared chicken being so widely available, such as 白斬雞, 菜膽雞, or 貴妃雞, the latter of which is more heavily seasoned but still comes out tasting light and not overwhelming, and the ginger scallion oil dip sauce that goes with it no matter where you order this in Hong Kong (ditto for when one orders soy sauce chicken even at to go box lunch places). Some of the hainan chicken rice meal sets in HK (and at some HK cafes in California) include a side of Cantonese "old fire" cooked soup that rounds up the meal.

                Nothing wrong with that, but perhaps that explains why I wasn't used to the flavors in Singapore, perhaps if I spent more time and lived there, and given enough time has passed, I could easily accept it again.

                But I do understand that within the last 5 years or so, there is a new wave of Singaporean style hainan chicken rice specialist shops cropping up in HK that are essentially trying to do the authentic style (versus a HK style), from the chicken down to the rice to the sauces, in varying quality.

                1. re: FourSeasons

                  Also boils down to personal tastes. I have a couple of HK friends (both women) who preferred Singapore's Hainanese chicken precisely because of the softer, "mushier" (read, non-free range) texture. And one of the women also happened to be the one who first introduced me to Fu Sing restaurant in Wanchai, HK, and its divine roast pork, so she does know her food.

                  Personally, I also preferred free-range, organic chicken - which is why one of my fave chicken dishes is the one at Zuni Cafe, SF.

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Went to both Yet Con and Tian Tian when I was visiting Singapore a year ago. I agree the chicken at Tian Tian isn't perfect but when dipped with the sauces I thought it was very good. Rice obviously was very good.

                    I only went to Yet Con cause the taxi driver (after hearing we wanted to go to Tian Tian) told us Yet Con was better and had more history. To be honest...I found the chicken rice there decent but not as good as Tian Tian.