Chicken Rice: Because Anthony Bourdain Said So
There’s that saying: You’ve never been to Singapore unless you’ve tried the chicken rice. My Singapore-based Filipino friend Chris told me that you’ll find chicken rice everywhere, from hawker food centers to regular restaurants along the street, giving me the impression that chicken rice to Singaporeans is what adobo is to Filipinos.
My boyfriend Anton bought me my first chicken rice dish at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, Maxwell Road Food Center. “Why here?” I asked. If it’s available everywhere, why did he take me all the way there from our hotel in Orchard Road? “Because this is where Anthony Bourdain went,” he replied.
True enough, photos and quotes of renowned chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain were plastered all over the stalls. In an episode of Travel Channel’s No Reservations a few years ago, he visited Tian Tian and broke into the science of their famous chicken rice.
For SG$3.50 a plate, you get chopped boiled spring chicken served in room temperature on top of heaps of rice sautéed in garlic, sesame oil, chicken fat and broth. You get a free bowl of broth, a side dish of vegetables, and three condiments to go with your meal—dark soy sauce, minced ginger, and chili dipping sauce.
What makes a meal this simple so popular? The chicken is downright moist and tender, while the rice is fragrant and tasty. The array of condiments gives the foodie freedom to drizzle his chicken and rice with as much or as little as he pleases. Some even prefer it without any condiments at all. There is no wrong or right way to eat the chicken rice.
Although Tian Tian has Anthony Bourdain to thank for bringing extra global hype to their business, the owner’s over 40 years of experience in the food industry is enough to amass legions of devoted fans.
During the rest of my Singapore trip, I tried other versions of chicken rice from different hawkers and restaurants, just to see how they stack up compared to Tian Tian. My verdict: Tian Tian has some stiff competitors! One is Sing Ho Hainan Chicken Rice along Middle Road, which is a few blocks away from Orchard Road. I find their chicken rice tastier than Tian Tian’s, and their location gives tourists like me a more local and homegrown ambience.
My next food mission: to find the best chicken rice in Manila. I’ll keep you posted!