Unlike Char Kway Teow, Chicken Rice is one dish that will continue to prosper. There is by far many more good Chicken Rice stalls in Singapore than any other hawker dish. This is probably because the dish appeals to people from all ages, from kids to senior folk and because of its ability to be cooked in a central kitchen and transported to food courts to be sold, even the generic food court chicken rice is pretty palatable. At least when compared to food court Char Kway Teow.
So, now that I have covered most of the famous chicken rice places, I want to focus more on the traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice stalls. You know. the mom and pop shops where there each chicken is still lovingly dunked into chickenstock and every skin blemished is still lamented over.
I was speaking to a member of the Hainan Clan Association just yesterday and learnt a bit about the famous Wenchang Chicken from Hainan Island. Since Chicken Rice is basically chicken that is poached in water, the quality of the chicken really matters. Wenchang is that region of Hainan island where most of our early Hainanese immigrants came from and they have one very special chicken which I hope to taste one day. The thing that makes this chicken special is that they feed on peanut bran which is essentially the leftover solids of peanuts after the oil has been squeezed out of them to make peanut oil. I can just imagine the nutty aroma that such a diet would infuse on the flesh!
I don’t think we would see the day that we can import this chicken into Singapore, so we have to settle for our usual battery hens from Malaysia. However, you can still eat a tastier chicken if you keep an eye out for stalls like Nan Heng. These traditional Hainanese Hawkers still do a few things that set them apart from the more common Chicken Rice stalls. Firstly, they always insist on using chickens that are over 2 kg in weight and secondly they don’t like to sacrifice flavour for texture by soaking the chicken in ice water. The traditional Hainanese chicken rice sellers don’t even hang their chicken because they want to make sure that all that precious, tasty chicken oil stays on the skin and flesh of the chicken. As a result the skin of the chicken always looks more yellowy and it has that rustic patchy yellow colour that you can see from the first picture.
Even though traditional Hainanese Chicken rice is not supposed to come with sauce, this stall still drizzles the chicken when a very tasty soy sauce in deference to the what the general public have come to expect of chicken rice. So to find really traditional Hainanese Chicken rice is very hard nowadays. More commonly, it is a spectrum of Hainanese with a bit of Cantonese influence to Cantonese with a bit of Hainanese influence. But it is all known as Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice.
But I am not complaining because even though I might write as if I am a stickler for tradition, at the end of the day, taste is what brings me back to the same stall again and again. And this is one chicken rice which I won’t mind eating again because the combination of the sauce and the chicken was hitting all the right combination of notes on my tastebuds. 4.5/5
The other sign of a passionate chicken rice hawker lies in the chilli. It takes effort to make chilli with freshly sqeeze calamansi rather than white vinegar, so the sight of pips floating in the chilli sauce is very welcoming!
Singapore might be Chicken Rice Paradise, but if you want to eat something a little more artisanal you have to look for Mom and Pop shops like Nan Heng.
Nan Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice