March 03, 2013

Singapore

Maxwell Hawker Centre
Singapore has some of the best street food on the planet, except it isn't actually on the street because Singapore, being Singapore, has taken all the street food hawkers and put them into organized "Hawker Centres" with tile floors and running water and sanitation ratings.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
But the food is still amazing. Whenever Debbie and I visit Singapore (whenever we can) we spend almost the entire time visiting hawker centers and eating street food. The very first time we visited Singapore, the very first place we visited was Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in the Maxwell Hawker Centre. This trip we made the pilgrimage back to Tian Tian, and if anything it was even better than I remembered.

Chicken Rice with condiments
Hainanese Chicken Rice is a deceptively simple looking dish. It's just some poached chicken breast sitting on top of a mound of rice cooked in chicken stock, garnished with some cucumber, and served with chili/ginger sauce, and in Singapore some with ketjap manis (a thick, sweet, black, soy sauce.) It looks like bland boiled chicken over rice. In practice it's an example of how a simple food, perfected, is transcendant.

Just chicken, just rice...
The chicken is silky and tender, cooked in a chicken "master stock" that is constantly re-used, becoming thicker and richer over time, with water added as necessary to top it up. After cooking, the chicken is sometimes shocked in cold water to firm the skin and add gloss to the appearance. The chicken in chicken rice is never served hot.

The rice is cooked in a chicken stock specially made for the purpose, and is sometimes called "oily rice" because of the chicken fat that coats the rice. It has a bit more "tooth" than regular rice, and the stock may have additional flavoring herbs and spices.

Queueing out into the carpark
I could go on and on about the right condiments and how they should be prepared, but the bottom line is that Tian Tian is the standard against which I measure all chicken rice, including my own, and there's a reason that people queue around the corner and out into the carpark to get their chicken rice. Locals may sneer that it's a tourist joint and that there are other, better, places to get chicken rice but locals are always arguing about the best chicken rice place.  This tourist says Tian Tian is still the one to beat.

Inside the Maxwell Hawker Centre

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