Singapore's national dish?
Forget chilli crab — if Singapore has a national dish it’s definitely chicken rice. First of all, this simple but tasty dish is something that Singaporeans genuinely eat all the time. No hawker centre is complete without a chicken rice stall and it’s a balanced meal – carbs, protein, chilli sauce – for just a few dollars.
Despite its popularity here, chicken rice is not an original Singapore creation. The traditional chicken rice recipe was brought to Singapore (and neighbouring Malaysia) by immigrants from Southern China, which is why the dish is often called Hainanese chicken rice.
Following the traditional technique, the whole chicken is boiled in broth flavoured with garlic and ginger. Once cooked, the chicken is submerged in ice cold water to create ‘white chicken’ (??) with smooth, gelatinous skin and meat. If slimy chicken doesn’t sound particularly delicious, you’ll be happy to hear modern Singaporean chicken rice is more commonly steamed or roasted and that many chicken rice stalls offer both versions. The chicken is served in bite-sized slices and, depending on the knife skills of the cook, may be boneless.
To create the perfect plate of chicken rice, the rice is just as important as the meat. The rice should be slightly oily and flavourful enough to eat on its own and the secret is in the preparation. Rather than just boiling it in water, the rice for chicken rice is cooked with chicken broth and herbs like pandan leaves. Catering to the local love of chillies, each chicken rice stall has its own recipe for chilli sauce, which is served on the side. I watched it being made at my neighbourhood hawker centre, and it was basically a blender filled with garlic cloves, birds eye chillies, ginger and lime juice, then pureed. The sauce can be quite potent and, as an alternative, you can jazz up your chicken rice with sweet, thickened soy sauce.
To make it a complete meal, chicken rice is usually served with a small portion of vegetables (often cucumber) and a bowl of soup broth. Some chicken rice stalls offer extra sides like century egg , bean sprouts, chicken feet, or braised tofu for another S$1 or so.
If you’d like to cook it yourself, a traditional chicken rice recipe with step-by-step photos can be found at the SteamyKitchen.com blog. Of course, it may be easier just to come to Singapore!
You’ll find a chicken rice stall at every hawker centre and food court in Singapore, but these chicken rice stalls are local legends:
Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Food Centre, Chinatown
Heng Ji Chicken Rice at the Chinatown Complex, Chinatown
Tong Fong Fatt Boneless Chicken Rice, Amoy Street Food Centre
Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice, 199 East Coast Road, East Singapore
Chatterbox at the Metirus Mandarin Hotel, Orchard Road
Tanya Procyshyn is a freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea.
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