The popular Singapore chicken rice is normally referred to as Hainanese chicken rice due to the ethnic origin of the early migrants from Hainan Island who brought the dish with them. The dish usually uses older, plumper chickens and is prepared using the traditional methods, which involves poaching the whole chicken in not-quite boiling water. The fatty stock is skimmed off and, along with ginger, garlic and pandan leaves, is used to cook the rice, producing oily rice that is bursting with flavour. The whole chicken is plunged into ice straight after cooking to create the jelly-like coating before being sliced and served with the delicious rice and condiments.
Known as Uncle Commie the first chicken rice vendor was Mr. Wong Yi Guan who peddled his chickens to the Hainanese community around Purvis Street and Seah Street. He later opened a shop in Purvis Street providing Singapore with the first of its fixed Hainanese chicken rice stalls. At a time when meat was a luxury for the poor, Uncle Commie was named, not for his political beliefs, but because of his habit of distributing unsold chickens free of charge to his less well-off neighbours.
Chatterbox at The Mandarin Orchard
Although normally associated with hawkers and food courts, Singapore’s illustrious Hainanese chicken rice dish is also a prominent feature in many high-end eateries and the Legendary Mandarin Chicken Rice is considered by locals and visitors alike as one of the best. Served with bowls of spicy chilli sauce, ginger paste and rich dark soy sauce, the lean sliced chicken is moist and tender and the fragrant rice bursting with complex flavours. The soup is rich yet broth-like and finishes off the restaurant’s most popular set meal to perfection.
Chatterbox is situated on level five of the Mandarin Orchard, located in the heart of Singapore’s Orchard Road retail district, and is just a five-minute walk from both Somerset and Orchard MRT stations.Beautifully presented and forever popular, Chatterbox has been offering an exquisite take on this famous local everyday dish since 1971. For those in Singapore, the Legendary Mandarin Chicken Rice is available for office or home delivery via Deliveroo.
The Big Bird in Balmoral Plaza
Endorsed and frequented by one of Singapore’s favourite daughters, pop icon Stefanie Sun, The Big Bird in Newton is one of the city’s most popular chicken rice outlets. The chef and owner, Derek Chen, and his wife Bessie opened the first of their two restaurants in 1998 at Parklane Shopping Centre and expanded a year later into Balmoral Plaza.
The opening followed a decade of experimenting with flavours and techniques, resulting in a unique, fiery style that has taken the city by storm.
The chicken is always thick and tender and unusually it is also served warm. The rice is fragrant and packed full of delicate flavours, with ginger, garlic and pandan being prominent – and then there is the punchy, rich, red chilli sauce. For those who like it hot, it is a match made in culinary heaven!
The Big Bird started out as a humble chicken rice restaurant but today offers a wide selection of other traditional regional dishes. Balmoral Plaza can be found at 271 Bukit Timah Road, around 10 minutes’ walk from the Newton MRT station on the Downtown Line.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Possibly the most famous of the contemporary chicken rice brands is Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, which now boasts four outlets. The original is located in the celebrated Maxwell Food Centre and has attracted serious praise from a long list of renowned international chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Tetsuya Wakuda and most recently the highly acclaimed chef, writer and culinary personality, Anthony Bourdain.
The generous sliced chicken and fragrant rice is served slightly chilled, the traditional way and, as the now retired founder Madam Foo Kui Lian suggests, “this is very refreshing on a hot day.” Compared to some it is quite light and has a buttery taste and texture that is smooth and soft. The sauce, served as a condiment, is spicy, however, and incredibly rich.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice can be found at stall 10 in the Maxwell Food Centre, but most likely all you need to do is look for the longest queue.