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Tian Tian Hai Nan Ji Fan 天天海南雞飯 – My Favorite Hai Nan Chicken Rice in Singapore

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  • Lau Nov 9, 2010 03:45 PM
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**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2010/11/tian-...

Hai nan chicken rice is probably my all time favorite dish in Singapore. I literally ate chicken rice 4-5 times per week for lunch when I studied abroad in Singapore. Tian Tian Hai Nan Ji Fan (天天海南雞飯) is located in Maxwell Food Center, a well known hawker center. It is very famous in Singapore and probably even somewhat known in the US know since Anthony Bourdain went there on his trip to Singapore. There is always a line in front of it even when we went which at an off hour (the lunch line is crazy). You can see a video of the line in full effect here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIirV7...

Hai nan chicken rice originated from Hai Nan 海南, which is a Chinese island province in Southern China. I believe that Singapore has quite a few immigrants from Hai Nan. Hai nan chicken rice is based on an original dish called wen chang chicken 文昌雞 although I heard that it tasted different than what you get in Singapore. The chicken is cooked by boiling in water flavored with garlic and ginger with the resulting stock used in the preparation of the rice and also in the accompanying soup. The chicken is then immediately put into ice cold water and then hung up, it results in the skin separating the meat. The rice is sautéed in garlic, ginger and chicken lard then they boil the rice in the chicken broth they got from boiling the chicken. You can see the whole process here (go to about 1:30): http://blog.belm.com/2009/01/21/haina...

So, I always separate the rice from the chicken when thinking about how good it is. The rice here is unbelievable. It’s so light, fluffy and flavorful, not oily or heavy or stuck together. I can’t say enough about how good the rice is. The condiments are very important as well. You drizzle a dark very thick soy sauce, homemade chili sauce and a ginger sauce on it. Each of these condiments is exceptionally good here as I believe they make all of them. The chicken itself is good clean chicken, given the way it is prepared don’t be expecting some bold flavor, but just good chicken. I like the chicken, but to me the rice has always been the star and the chicken is effectively a condiment in my mind. You also eat it with sliced cucumber slices that are served cold and really go nicely with the dish. This is a mind blowing dish for me and it was so good that we came back twice.

This is a must try dish and a must try place in my mind when you visit Singapore.

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  1. Fellow chowhounders fourseasons, klyeoh and myself actually had our first chowmeet there a few years ago! The place was chosen because of the Bourdain influence?! However, IMO, I found this chicken rice dish way way over-rated. I do agree with you about the rice part, but the chicken to me was totally tasteless and the texture soft and mushy ( resembling those hormone KFC chicken! ). In fact, for really tasty 'stand alone' Hainan Chicken, the restaurant 'Taopayoh' in Hung Hum, Kowloon did an awesome job using yellow skin/fat free range chicken. Full of 'chicken taste' with nice firm chewy texture!

    18 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      there is certainly a hype about the place b/c of the bourdain influence, but i really think their rice lives up to the hype i could eat it all the time. the chicken is good, i don't think i'm as down about it as you are, but again to me i almost don't care about the chicken b/c the rice is the star in my mind. My gf actually didn't even order the chicken the 2nd time, she just wanted rice!

      also they seemed to serve it a bit differently if you ordered a large portion of chicken (like a half or whole chicken), i noticed this as there were two tables that either had a whole or a half chicken. Had alot more skin etc on it than mine, i would've like to have done that, but you can only eat so much with 2 people

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Hey Charles, Man Chang chicken (文昌雞), the "official" chicken for Hainan Chicken Rice is a kind of chicken raised inside a cage, never let go outside. It is different from free range chicken as Man Chang chicken does not have chance to do exercise at all. On top, coconut residue is used to feed the chicken. That's why its texture is very different from free range chicken. But yeah, there are many different kinds of Hainan chicken nowaday which use different kinds of chicken, receipt and sauce.

        1. re: skylineR33

          actually while ive never had wen chang chicken (never been to hai nan) my understanding is that there are quite a few things different about it from the hai nan chicken rice you find in singapore / malaysia....would def be curious though to see how it stacks up

          1. re: Lau

            I understand that in Hainan, you should preferably ask for the left side of the Wenchang chicken to be served, as it's believed to be softer/juicier. That's because the locals believe that a chicken uses its right claw/leg to scratch the ground more, hence the right leg's meat will be tougher/stringier! Not that I believe any of this, but interesting trivia nonetheless :-D

        2. re: Charles Yu

          I still remembered your disappointment, Charles!

          I also often wondered about Tian Tian's strong reputation - even Singapore's #1 foodblogger, ieatishootipost, when he ran a survey on the best chicken rice spot in Singapore, saw Tian Tian voted overwhelmingly #1 by his readers!

          1. re: klyeoh

            klyeoh - what did you think of it?

            1. re: Lau

              I'm with Charles - am also non-plussed over Tian Tian's overwhelming success. Perhaps a case of its reputation preceding its actual cooking standards.

              But for a successful hawker stall in Singapore, its service staff are all very friendly & helpful - definitely a refreshing change from the Nazis who ran the popular Laksa, Wanton Noodles, Crab Bee Hoon, etc. stalls in Singapore. It seems that ability to dispense rudeness to customers is a gauge to your popularity in Singapore!

              1. re: klyeoh

                you know that is true, they were surprisingly nice

                which one is your favorite chicken rice?

                1. re: Lau

                  You mean, besides the hotel-based Chatterbox? For the rice only per se, I liked Yet Con in Purvis Street. See thread below for photos/write-up:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7459...

                  For the "whole package", it's probably a toss-up between Nam Kee (Upper Thomson Road) and Boon Tong Kee (Balestier Road outlet).

                  ADDRESS DETAILS:

                  Yet Con
                  25 Purvis Street
                  Singapore
                  Tel: 6254 3937

                  Nam Kee
                  201 Upper Thomson Road
                  Singapore
                  Tel: 6253 4502

                  Boon Tong Kee
                  401 Balestier Road
                  Singapore
                  Tel: 6254 3937

                  Chatterbox
                  Mandarin Orchard Hotel
                  333 Orchard Rd
                  Singapore
                  Tel: 6831 6291

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    cool thanks, i'm very curious about chatterbox just b/c that is the last place i would expect to find good chicken rice, but i've heard from multiple people that it is in fact very good

                    1. re: Lau

                      There was an interesting article in the Singapore Sunday Times early this year about former Chatterbox chefs (yep, understandably - there are quite a FEW of them) who went on to set up their own chicken rice places after they left or were retrenched by Mandarin Orchard Hotel (there was a retrenchment exercise after the hotel, previously owned by OUE, was taken over by the Lippo Group of Indonesia).

                      Some of the chicken rice places set-up by Chatterbox alumnus:

                      1) Chef Kiang Jon Toh (one of the pioneer chefs who created the recipe back in the early 1970s) who set-up the Sergeant Chicken Rice chain of chicken rice stalls, including a popular outlet in Wisma Atria's Food Republic foodcourt on the 4th floor. He started this post-retirement. Chef Kiang is now in his 70s.
                      2) Chef Low Hoe Ann who started Mr Chicken Rice at Downtown East resort, Pasir Ris, after he was retrenched.
                      3) Chef Han Seng Fong at Kopitiam foodcourt, Centrepoint Orchard.
                      4) Chef Chew Kian Yong (he learnt the famous chicken rice recipe whilst apprenticing under Chef Han Seng Fong) of Sheng Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice at Bedok Reservoir Road.

                      The current Chef de Cuisine at Chatterbox, Mandarin Orchard Hotel, Liew Tian Heong, has got the original recipe passed down to him.

                      Personally, I felt that Chatterbox's chicken rice is good but terribly over-priced, as the hotel's cashing in on its near-legendary reputation. It's currently priced at S$25++, which does leave a rather sour taste in many people's mouths :-(

                      Strangely, NONE of the former chefs had been able to replicate the quality of the Chatterbox chicken rice in their current establishments. The only explanation, I surmise, is that they are compromising on the quality of the ingredients used.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        I went to Tian Tian today for lunch, first time. Line wasn't too bad, maybe 20 minute wait. I thought the rice was a revelation, and the chicken was seriously moist and tender. Sorry but it blows the Chatterbox away, and it's only $3.50, as opposed to $27...

                        1. re: Uncle Yabai

                          If only they would use 'free-range' chicken as well, then the whole package would be perfect!!

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            i would prefer free range chicken as well, but for me its about the rice and their rice is so good

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              Can't believe it's been 5 years now since we did Tian Tian, Charles:
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/599638

                              I found a fantastic Hainanese chicken rice spot yesterday in Seremban - a town about 45 minutes' drive from Kuala Lumpur. But the crowd was pretty daunting.

                              Most of the Chinese populace in Seremban are of Hakka ( 客家) descent, so interestingly, even the Hainanese, Cantonese, Chiuchow or Fujianese (Hokkien) folks there speak Hakka, something I also noticed in the neighbouring town of Kajang (which is famous for its satays http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/972264)

                               
                              1. re: klyeoh

                                Yes!! How time flies!!
                                Guess its about time I make another visit! This time I hope you will 'vow' me with more great 'curry' places

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  nice to hear from you klyeoh!

                    2. re: klyeoh

                      For me, the best part of Tian Tian's offering is actually their condiments, esp the chili, which is miles better than the usual watery type of chili served with chicken rice.

              2. *This* is the stall that set the whole Hainanese chicken rice-lovers' fraternity in Singapore a-chattering: Ah-Tai (Stall #01-07) at Maxwell Road Food Centre, a few paces away from Tian Tian (Stall #01-10), long touted by most Singaporeans (I'm not one of them) as the *best* Hainanese chicken rice stall in town.

                And Ah-Tai's claim-to-fame? It's run by an ex-Tian Tian cook!! Yes, the makings of a "chicken rice war" - though there are already at least 2 other copycat chicken rice stalls on the same aisle as these 2 stalls.

                So how was Ah-Tai's chicken rice? Well, I'm not a big fan of Tian Tian's, and Ah-Tai's pretty much more of the same, understandably.

                 
                4 Replies
                1. re: klyeoh

                  So, Ah Tai and Tian Tian has parted ways? Oh well, Eugene Soh (http://www.facebook.com/#!/dudesgg) has a wonderful picture which tells the story of the Last (Hainanese chicken rice) Supper :-

                   
                  1. re: M_Gomez

                    Heh-heh, I do recognize the use of Maxwell Road Food Centre and Tian Tian chicken rice stall (seen on the right side of the photo) as a backdrop for this picture, Martha. But I think Eugene Soh called this pic "The Last Wanton Mee Supper" or something like that ... not Hainanese chicken rice :-D

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      interesting, will give it a try next time im in singapore...i absolutely love their chicken rice

                  2. re: klyeoh

                    Same taste, but now the long queue which used to form at Tian Tian is shorter as many customers who recognized the Ah Tai guy decided to patronize the new stall.