4.267 Chicken Rice

-Cycle 4, Item 267-
29 (Sun) September 2013

Chicken Rice


at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre)

-Chinatown, Singapore-


The Singapore Diet: Day 3 (see previously 4.266 (White) Carrot Cake)

Maxwell Food Centre is a hawker center.  Located in Chinatown.  One of the biggest and oldest and most famous in the city.

Not that impressive from the outside.

But once inside, wow, what a sight, two more aisles like this--exactly what I'd imagined a hawker centre to be.

To maximize the number of venues that I could hit on the final day, the plan had been to grab snacks at various hawker centres in the area and close-out The Singapore Diet by eating an early dinner at Maxwell.  Being Sunday, however, most centres were closed.  So I ended up at Maxwell for the day's first meal.

 Meal 8 / Venue 8: Marina South Delicious Food at Maxwell Food Centre

Item 16: (black) carrot cake (3.0)
--much punchier, and thus more interesting to my untrained palate, than the white (see yesterday's post).

Item 17: oyster omelette (2.5)
--another classic hawker dish, not exclusively Singaporean, okay but predictable.  

Item 18: hokkien prawn mee (2.5)
--okay, but the noodles were a bit overcooked.

Total: SGD 12 (about USD 10)

Being in Chinatown also gave me the opportunity to shop for souvenirs (i.e., magnets) in between meals.

Chicken rice is a Chinese/Singaporean chicken and rice dish.  Sometimes referred to as "Hainanese chicken rice" after its city of origin in China, spread by Hainanese immigrants throughout Southeast Asia, Singapore in particular, where it was most passionately embraced and now so ubiquitous, from hawker centres to high-end restaurants, that it's widely regarded as a/the national dish.  It consists of chicken simmered for hours to the point of extreme tenderness in seasoned stock that eventually thickens from the fat and gelatin to become a sauce.  The chicken is then chilled, cut into pieces, and served over steamed rice that's been cooked in a separate stock for additional flavor.  Chili sauce is typically provided on the side.  Deceptively simple.  Bland and icky if done wrong, sublime if done right, a fine line between the two.

Prior to this evening, I tried it once before in Shanghai.  That time, I'd taken a single bite and pushed the plate away.  Slimy sauce.  Off-flavored meat.  Gross.

Perhaps intentionally, Tian Tian is located next to an exit, allowing the customer queue to extend outside into the parking lot. 

Longest line in the entire centre, from morning til night.

The guy in line behind me; mainland Chinese, I think; apparently unable to read English, he didn't know what his t-shirt meant.

The only stall comprising two adjoining spaces.

The wall of fame, featuring Anthony Bourdain.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is a hawker stall.  Located in Maxwell Food Centre.  The signature item, of course, is chicken rice.  My hawker book, based in part on a survey of locals conducted on the associated blog, listed the stall as the ultimate destination for the dish.  When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was in town for an episode of his food and travel program No Reservations, Tian Tian was chosen to represent chicken rice.  And the owners themselves engage in quite a bit of self-promotion, including a website, a FB page, and even an on-site wall-of-fame, activities not generally associated with hawker culture.  (Actually, the business also includes a proper sit-down restaurant in a different part of the city.)

Being a food tourist, I had to check it out.


chicken and cucumbers

chili sauce


Meal 9 / Venue 9: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre

Yes, it was that good.  The meat was impossibly soft and succulent with just enough bite to avoid being mushy.  The sauce was silky smooth in texture, aromatic with light yet unmistakable touches of garlic and ginger, a wisp of sweetness from the soy sauce, balance.  The rice, "fragrant" as Anthony had described it, savory, scrumptious, really could be eaten as a dish in its own right.  The salted cucumbers, a nice accompaniment that provided crunch in between bites.  If all that weren't enough, the chili sauce on the side was an amazing blend of spicy and tart--supposedly, the secret ingredient is lime juice--that transformed an already perfect dish into an entirely different perfect dish.  At last, a tourist trap that lives up to the hype.  

Item 19: chicken rice (3.5).

Total: SGD 3!

That was supposed to have been the end, a perfect coda to an extended symphony of gluttony.  But when I got to the airport, I learned that my flight to Manila had been delayed for a couple hours.  And then I saw that Tiger Balm was selling in the airport drugstore for SGD 5.50 a jar, even though I'd seen it earlier that day in Chinatown for less than half; at the time, I didn't know that it would be so much more at the airport, so I didn't buy any.  I figured that I could go back to the city, purchase the Tiger Balm in Chinatown, eat a few more items while I was there, with the money that I'd be saving, and return in time for the flight.  So that's exactly what I did.

Just some random place in a back alley amidst all the chaos of Chinatown.

 Tiger Balm is a Singapore-produced menthol-based ointment that works magic on all manner of malady, especially mosquito bites; it's been prized by Koreans for decades--I can even remember a jar of the stuff in our medicine cabinet when I was growing up in California--but for some reason not readily available in Korea, thus making it an ideal gift item.

Meal 10 / Venue 10: Chinatown Seafood

Item 20: char kway teow (3.0)
--what's not to love about stir-fried rice noodles and seafood.

Item 21: chicken satay (3.0)
--a classic hawker item, influenced by Malay cuisine, excellent with the spicy coconut-peanut sauce.

Total: SGD 20.60 (+ 5.05 for beer) (+ 4.55 tax and service charge)


48 hours.  
10 meals.
10 venues.
21 items.
188 dollars (SGD) (not counting booze).
2.71 average rating.

See you back in Manila.

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