SINGAPORE | When it comes to food in Singapore, is there a more divisive question than “Where can I find the best chicken rice”? Ask any Singaporean for the answer to this question and you won’t get the same answer each time. There are however, several places that come up consistently on most people’s lists and, armed with a list that I complied after researching the topic on websites, asking people on social media and talking to some locals on the ground, I set off to see if I could find the elusive “best chicken rice” during my recent visit to Singapore.
Before getting to the list, here are a few bits of information for the uninitiated. Hainanese chicken rice is, at its most basic level exactly that – a chicken and rice dish that originated from Chinese immigrants from the Hainan province of southern China. A whole chicken is steeped in hot (not boiling) pork and chicken bone stock and cooked until tender. The rice is cooked using a separate fatty chicken stock which gives it its famous oily texture. The chicken and rice are usually served with a range of condiments including chilli sauce, dark soy sauce and freshly pounded garlic. cucumber slices and light soy sauce finish the dish. Delicious!
The preparation time and effort that goes into making what appears to be such a simple dish shouldn’t be underestimated, and there’s a lot more to it that my brief description aludes to, but you get the basic idea.
Tian Tian is arguably the most famous of all the chicken rice stalls in Sinagpore. Located in the Maxwell Food Centre, Tian Tian has been visited by people like Anthony Bourdain and you’ll find its name in many a guide book. Does it live up to the hype?
The chicken was very tender, however it wasn’t quite as fragrant as some of the others. Thankfully the rice was nicely oily and fragrant. The chilli was very strong so be warned that you don’t need a lot to get that fiery punch. One big let down was that the chilli was the only condiment that I saw on offer. No dark soy or garlic that I could see, nor any chicken broth. A quick glance around the other tables indicated I wasn’t the only one going without. I’ve seen photos online where the full range of condiments has been available so this may have been an issue only on the day I visited.
Another thing that was unusual about the chicken rice here was that the chicken was served without the skin. Again, I had a quick look online and found many photos of Tian Tian chicken rice with the chicken skin on. So that’s no skin and missing condiments. This sort of thing has happened to me before when at Asian restaurants, especially in Australia. I call it the “gweilo special”. Did I get a watered down version because I’m not Asian?
Price for a single regular serve: $3.50
Highlight: Tender chicken
Lowlight: Lack of condiments and chicken skin
Maxwell Food Centre
1 Kadayanallur Street
Lion City is the complete opposite of Tian Tian in the fame stakes. I assume that the 2 chinese characters next to the lion’s head in the logo say “Lion City” however there’s nothing in English to indicate what this place is called. A Google search for “chicken rice stall #02-41 chinatown complex” is also of little help and a lot of sites with incorrect information are returned. Thankfully I spotted the laminated print below the menu to the right of this photo while writing this.
The Chinatown Complex is one of my favourite Hawker Centres in Sinagpore. There’s so much good food in the centre that you could happily eat only from here during your entire stay in Sinagpore and have something different and great each time. I stumbled upon Lion City for the first time back in 2011 and no visit to Sinagpore has ever been complete without a stop here.
The chicken at Lion City is very fragrant tender and has luscious fatty skin that glides down your throat. The full range of condiments is offered and you can have as much or as little as you please. No broth though. The chilli is a bit weak and the rice, while very fragrant, could be oilier. Overall, the chicken rice at Lion City remains on of my favourites and for those on a budget, it’s also one of the cheapest.
Price for a single regular serve: $3.00
Highlight: Fragrant, tender chicken
Lowlight: Rice could be oiler
355 Smith Street
Wee Nam Kee
Wee Nam Kee is one of the more successful chicken rice places in Sinagpore, and has a few branches across the city. The original in Novena Ville closed down a few years ago due to a redevelopment of the land on which it was relocated but reopened just up the road at United Square. Moving out of the hawker centres and into a proper restaurant means there’s a different vibe to Wee Nam Kee – things are certainly less hectic and vibrant in here, but there’s a certain something to be said about the peace and quiet. Pros and cons, swings and roundabouts and all of that.
The chicken was larger than I’d had at other places but was unfortunately not that fragrant which was surprising given the relative dark colour of the skin. On the condiments side there are no complaints – the full range of condiments is offered, you can use as much or as little as you like and you get a bowl of the chicken broth to either drink or to dip your chicken in. I felt that Wee Name Kee really nailed the “eat it the way you like” philosophy of chicken rice. As for the rice itself, this was the definite highlight. Really fragrant, oily, and more gingery than many others but not so much that it was overpowering.
Price for a single regular serve: $4.80 + $0.20 wet towel
Highlight: Amazing rice
Lowlight: Chicken was a bit bland
Wee Nam Kee
101 Thomson Road
Boon Tong Kee
Along with Wee Nam Kee, Boon Tong Kee came up several times when I asked locals about their favourite chicken rice spots. It opened in 1979 but has since expanded to a few locations across Sinagpore but the Balestier branch is the original. There’s actually a lot more than chicken rice on the menu at Boon Tong Kee but, despite claims by some that it’s not as good as it used to be, the chicken rice here is still famous.
When the chicken rice came to my table I was surprised at the size of the chicken. This was by far the biggest chicken out of all of the chicken rices that I tried in Sinagpore. The chicken was fragrant and had really good flavour but was a bit on the dry side. As with Tian Tian, there were many condiments missing and the broth was nowhere to be seen. The rice was different than most, having more in common with broken rice. This meant that the texture was less oily than is normal but the flavour was very good.
One thing which really stood out at Boon Tong Kee, something that was different than any other place I visited for chicken rice was the service. It was terrible. Ordering was a chore for the staff, my presence was a chore for the staff, and simply asking for my bill was something that seemed impossible for the venue to act upon. One of the aunties made Basil Fawlty at his rudest seem pleasant. To top it all of it was the equal most expensive of the chicken rice places that I ate at – even tap water cost $0.50! This surely can’t be the experience that most people have given the reputation that Boon Tong Kee has but it was the experience that everyone at the other tables, not just me, was getting on this day.
Price for a single regular serve: $7.50 + $0.30 wet towel
Highlight: Unique rice
Lowlight: Terrible service
Boon Tong Kee
401 Balestier Road
Loy Kee has been around since 1953 and include the term “best chicken rice” in their marketing. Big claims from this place that now has a few outlets. After the experience I’d had up the road at Boon Tong Kee I was happy to be greeted upon walking in by someone who actually seemed like a happy person. I went for one of the popular “Special Sets” which contained chicken, rice, the full range of compliments and some bok choy.
I found it hard to fault anything at Loy Kee, the only real negative being the price. The chicken was slightly chewy but not in a bad way. The condiments were a cut above most places, with the flavours really coming through and the chilli in particular having a real kick to it. The rice was similar to that at Boon Tong Kee in that it was almost “broken” but still managed to be nicely oily and very aromatic. The addition of bok choy was well appreciated to get some greens in me.
What really struck me about the special set was just how balanced all of the flavours were. Everything worked really well together which made the chicken rice at Loy Kee one of my favourites. Pricey though!
Price for a single regular serve: $7.50 + $0.30 wet towel
Highlight: Balanced flavours
342 Balestier Road
Sing Ho wasn’t on my list when I arrived in Sinagpore but it was near the hotel I was staying at and came recommended later in the trip. If the serving looks massive compared to the other photos in this write up it’s because I was with a group for this meal, so we went for a full chicken. The chicken itself was very fragrant and tender and was the highlight of the dish. The rice on the other hand was the complete opposite. It wasn’t as oily as I had become accustomed to and was also quite bland. I later learned that Sing Ho does their rice differently than most to make it more healthy. Sure, the chicken fat broth isn’t healthy but it’s what makes the rice great. A full range of condiments, including broth, were offered.
Overall the chicken rice wasn’t bad, but there are better around.
There are a range of other dishes on offer here too, including the very unhealthy but oh so delicious deep fried crumbed prawns with mayonnaise.
Price for a single regular serve: $4.00
Highlight: Fragrant chicken
Lowlight: Bland rice
270 Middle Road
Alas, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to try every chicken rice on my list during my short time in Sinagpore. Perhaps next time, but for your benefit here are the other spots that are, by all accounts, worth trying.
Five Star are very popular and have 3 branches, the first having opened in 1988. They are famous for their free range “Kampung” chicken and if I could visit one more, this is the place I’d go to. The most accessible branch for visitors to Sinagpore is at 419 River Valley Road.
Located at 85 Redhill Lane, Hua Kee is another famous chicken rice place whose claim to fame is that they only use white chicken meat with minimal seasoning in an attempt to make their chicken rice healthier than usual.
Stall #02-131 is the most famous chicken rice spot in the Chinatown complex due in part to its long history and, of course, its chicken rice. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this place. Their sweet chilli sauce is divisive and their chicken more savoury than most. It’s one I definitely want to try one day so that I can make up my own mind.
I’ve been very picky in my write up to really try and get to the essence of what each of the chicken rices that I tried was about. I’ve mentioned the pros and cons of each but you know what, none of them were bad (service at Boon Tong Kee excepted). There’s not too much to complain about when the worst chicken rice you’ve eaten on your trip is, overall, still a good chicken rice.
Is your favourite chicken rice spot on this list? Do you know of any great chicken rice places that The City Lane team should know about? Let us know in the comments below.