Ma Li Ya Virgin Chicken: Heavenly Soy Sauce Chicken!

Soy Sauce Chicken $14.80ea

So there we were, in front of this oddly named stall that sells Soy Sauce Chicken wondering why in the world it was called Ma Li Ya chicken?  Was the feisty short haired lady behind the chopping board named Maria?  My "A" level Chinese is so rusty that I had real difficulty in making out what the signboard actually said.  Then heaven opened and a beam of light enveloped us.

"Santa Maria!"  The words on the signboard miraculously morphed into something legible:  Ma-Li-Ya-Chu-Nu-Ji... Ma Ri Ya Virgin Chicken.... Maria Virgin Chicken..... ohhhhh......Virgin Mary Chicken!!

Ok, so owner didn't actually mean to call it the Virgin Mary Chicken, but she had inadvertently combined "Maria" and "Virgin" together without knowing its significance and somehow it just stuck and the stall in People's Park became quite popular before it suddenly closed down a decade or so ago. She wasn't a Catholic at the time, but she told me that she had become a Catholic last year!  I like to think of it as a case of self fulfilling prophecy!

Soy Sauce Chicken (Note the fried Soy Beans)

It was OMark who insisted that I must try Ma Li Ya Chicken.  He had just discovered it the weekend before and was telling me that the chicken was even better then Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken which I raved about previously which was also at Smith St Food Centre.

The way OMark was raving about it got me so excited that the first thing I did when I got my plate of chicken was to pop a spoonful of the sauce into my mouth.  Heaven opened again and this time I was levitating towards the light!  There was something very irresistible, very unique, yet vaguely familiar about the sauce.  The most noticeable difference is the addition of the fried soy beans which is something I used to see years ago as a kid, but which has since gone out of fashion.  I think it was the fried soy beans and sesame oil that gave the sauce an ethereal fragrance that is dangerously close to being hypnotic!

Braised Japanese Tofu

The chicken skin was such a joy to eat.  Having soaked up the sauce, it was just about as good as I can imagine chicken skin can get.  The chicken meat is also cooked to perfection.  The marrow is still pink while the flesh is just cooked all the way through.  That means that the meat is not overcooked and the breast remains juicy and tender!  4.5/5

You must also remember to order some tofu!  Their braised Japanese tofu is silky smooth and just acts as another low cholesterol excuse to enjoy more sauce!  4.25/5

The lady behind the chopping board tells me that she no longer owns the stall but is simply the head chef there.  Her family history stretches all the way to 1926 when her father came to Singapore and later became famous when he opened Nam Thong Pau shop in Chinatown.  The Soy Sauce Chicken recipe was part of her father's legacy.  Since then the family fortune has gone through a roller coaster ride.  Now, she is simply happy to work for the owners of the stall.

Anyone here remembers a Pau shop called Nam Thong in Chinatown?  Apparently, they were also famous for Chinese biscuits!


Fans of Ma Li Ya Chicken can rejoice that their favourite Soy Sauce Chicken stall is now back in business!  This excellent Soy Sauce Chicken is now the new gold standard in my books!

Postscript: 3 Dec 2011
I have received some feedback from readers concerning the name of the stall and I have since clarified the matter with the owner and revised the original blog post.

The stall is called Ma Li Ya because that was the name she adopted for herself in those days. While she was working at the restaurant, she was introduced to a famous Hong Kong actress who also has the name Maria and when they found that they had so many things in common, they decided to become sworn sisters.  The owner has sinced stopped using the name for herself, but instead the name is now used for the stall. 

"Virgin Chicken" came about as a bit of a joke (referring to a different kind of "chicken") but the owner used it because she knew that it was a catchy name which will get people's attention.  It had nothing to do with the kind of chicken used.

Many thanks to Phuay Khoon and Gastronaut who wrote in to help clarify the matter.  You can read Gastronaut's review and story of the stall here.

Ma Li Ya Virgin Chicken
Smith Street Food Centre
7am to 4pm
Closed Mon


YS said...

Was this stall near the back entrance of People's Park Hawker Centre, near to Gao Jia Yong Tau Foo? If this is so, then this stall sells one of the best soy sauce chicken noodles in Singapore! Did you try their noodles?

Anonymous said...

There are 2 stalls selling this at Smith street food center. The other stall is by far the better one. Beware: queue for the other stall is super long, lots of patience required. Do try soy sauce chicken hor fun. But everything else is good for that stall. Remember to buy back whole chicken for family and friends. They will thank you for it.

ieat said...

My preference is for Ma Li Ya Chicken although the other one is also very good. Maybe some readers would be interested enough to do a taste test of both when they visit?

@YS: Yes, that's the one!

Puay Khoon said...

this might be a more accurate explanation of the "Maria Virgin Chicken" name.

ieat said...

Thanks for the link Puay Khoon. I think that there is a grain of truth in the sworn sister name. But where does the Virgin come from? When I spoke with the owner, she told me that it was simply a name that most people will remember.

suka chiak said...

I first came across with the stall at Upper Boon Keng food center some two years ago. However, the stall's name was not Ma Li Ya Virgin Chicken then. What stroke me then was the beautiful colour of the chicken hung up at the stall and the white chef uniform the lady boss wore.I thought then that she must be a real pro-chef who is proud of her trade without realising that she was in fact the owner of an old established restaurant which my late parents used to like very much. However the stall disappeared suddenly without any trail about one year later. I thought it could be due to the bad location of the stall which was at the back row of the food center. It was only about some three months ago I discovered that the chef and her stall is now back in the Smith Street food center.

ieat said...

Are you referring to the lady in the photo?

Gastronaut said...

According to Mdm. Siew, whom I interviewed, the reason the chicken is called 'virgin' is because the chicken is slaughtered at puberty, but before it has laid its first egg. Also, she mentioned that she only uses free-range chicken.

ieat said...

Thanks for the clarification, Gastronaut! I have edited the story until I can talk to her again to confirm what she had told me.

Terence said...

I wonder if that is the secret to how chicken rice in general taste so good - that is to use free-range chicken.

I don't care much about whether the chicken is virgin, as long as it is not pumped with antibiotics and "fattening" steroids.

ieat said...

When I asked her this morning, she said that it was normal chicken. It tastes good because of the secret recipe!

suka chiak said...

Yes, the lady in the photo is the same chef at the Upper Boon Keng food center.

Anonymous said...

Nice photos!

Anonymous said...

Nam Thong was famous for its early morning "yum cha dim sum" way back, competing with Tai Tung etc...and the "higher class" Nam Tin (Southern Cabaret - then at the present Yuyi dept store. As a kid then, I remembered the little birds in cages carried by the patrons and also the spitoons.
I had thought that the chickens we eat today are "sexless" after the growth booster injections! or AVA stopped this process today?

J2Kfm said...

Interesting name, and instantly stuck to mind as well. Maria it is then, not so because of the Virgin Mary effect.
Anyway, never tried fried soy beans before, aside from having them included in teo chew steamed fish dishes.

Anonymous said...

Saw the whole ieat family at nasi lemak kukus last nite. Wanted to say hi but you were busy with your ramly burger. Nice to see you!

ieat said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for that bit of historical info!

@Anonymous2: Should have just come over lah! Would have loved to meet you!

Anonymous said...

Wanted so much to walk over to shake your hand time if I find my courage! Haha! So Dr, what's your take on nasi lemak kukus? Did you manage to talk to the pilot boss?

ieat said...

I thought it was excellent! Maybe you can write to me at Try not to stray from the subject at hand viz Virgin Chicken.

Chaozhouzi said...

Have been trying to eat at this stall since reading this post. Today I was "lucky" as it was open when I visited. Ordered a $2.50 chicken rice. Plate of hard, dry rice was presented with some slivers of breast meat WITHOUT the skin. It was the most unappetising plate of chicken rice I had ever eaten in my entire life and the first time I left without finishing the food. Two big thumbs down from me!

ieat said...

Goodness! Whatever happened??

Chaozhouzi said...

ieat, really do not know. Could be before me, there was a phone order and the lady was upset with the fella on the other end and took it out on me.:< It still does not excuse the fact that chicken meat came without the skin-hello, it is soy sauce chicken. Though I saw two guys enjoying a whole chicken without rice.


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