29 (Sat) September 2013
Hainanese Chicken Rice
at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
(Maxwell Food Centre)
-Marina Bay, Singapore-
The Singapore Diet: Day 3 of 3
In Singapore. While here on a gluttony excursion, for approximately 48 hours, from Friday evening to Sunday evening, the plan is to consume as much as I can, both in terms of variety and volume, via the Singapore Diet. The Singapore Diet, developed expressly for this purpose, involves eating a meal whenever I’m not feeling stuffed from the prior meal. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to research specific venues and items, so I’ll be winging it for the most part.
Marina South Delicious Food
Maxwell Food Centre is a hawker center. One of the biggest and oldest and most famous in the city.
Brunch in a hawker centre – what a fantastic way to start a Sunday morning.
TOTAL COST: SGD 12
Being in Chinatown, I took the opportunity to shop for souvenirs (i.e., refrigerator magnets), walk off the brunch, and go back to Maxwell for lunch.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is a hawker stall. 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. The business also includes a proper sit-down restaurant in a different part of the city.
Chicken rice is a Chinese/Singaporean 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. 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 regarded as one of Singapore’s national dishes.
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.
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.
TOTAL COST: SGD 3!
That was supposed to be the end, a perfect coda to an extended symphony of gluttony. But when I got to the airport, I found 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. I took the opportunity to go back into the city, purchase the Tiger Balm in Chinatown, eat a few more items while I was there, and return in time for the flight.
TOTAL COST: SGD 30.20
2.71 average rating.
SGD 188 (not counting booze).
(See also FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also SINGAPORE RESTAURANTS)