“As if Gordon Ramsay stood a chance” was one
comment whispered amidst the crowd that attended the recent hawker food
throwdown between this Michelin star studded chefs and some of our top hawkers.
His chicken rice effort was no match for Tian Tian Chicken Rice’s version.
Well, to be accurate, Ramsay enlisted the help of a popular local food caterer.
But still, the difference was obvious.
Chicken rice culture provides all sorts
fodder for drama. Families have squabbled over business inheritance, a Chicken
Rice War movie was made, it is very often used as visual icon by the tourism
folks to sell this little red dot as a culinary destination and many hawkers
have become millionaires just selling this. Chicken is the de-facto national
dish of Singapore. Everyone is a critic of this dish and they think nothing of
what international celebrities say about it here. They know better.
Just how endearing is the chicken rice? Let
me count the ways. For starters, this is about the only dish which is rated not
just by the chicken – if it’s smooth, fatty or has a silky skin texture, nor by
the rice – whether fine Thai jasmine grains are used, and enough or lack of
oils are introduced into it. They also factor in another very pertinent component
– the chilli sauce. Ironically, many reviewers and bloggers will thumb a good plate
of chicken rice down just because the chilli sauce can’t make the cut. “The
tanginess is tame”, “ too watery”, “not
enough garlic” etc.. .are just some comments for a chilli alone.
It is believed that Hainanese chicken rice
was first hawked by a shoulder food cart peddler pounding the streets in and
around Middle Road, almost a century ago. It caught on and today it’s a national
soulful staple and I have not yet met a bloke or a lady who has disdain for
Chicken rice has many incarnations. From
ayam penyet to fried chicken wing rice (made famous by the Corona Chicken Rice
folks), stewed chicken rice, Hainanese and the Cantonese versions. If you are
hard core about it, you’ll notice that the original Hainanese version (the last
one I knew, the defunct, Peng Kee Chicken Rice along Balestier Road) comes
hardy and robust. The legendary old name of chicken rice, Swee Kee, then at
Middle Road offered this version too. They simply steam or poach the fowl, chop
it up and serve with oily and richly flavoured chicken rice. No fancy soy,
sesame oil and oyster sauce combo sauce, which is a hallmark of the Cantonese
kitchen. They call this “wat kai” or smooth chicken.
“My family is Cantonese and my later father
just figured out the recipe and tweaked it along they way,” says Niven Leong,
one of the second generation sibling that continued the Sin Kee Chicken Rice
heritage. He says when his father, who founded the business, passed on in 2008.
The business, he adds, but not the name, was sold as the brand was not a
registered trade name or mark, said Niven.
So now, Niven runs Uncle Chicken (former
Sin Kee) and his brother Benson helms the old stall at Mei Ling Street Food
Centre under the old name and another independent party, who bought the
business, operates Sin Kee Chicken Rice at Commonwealth Ave. So, did they all
stick to the same recipe and who’s doing what?
Uncle Chicken (former Sin Kee at Margaret Drive),
01-74, Alexandra Village Food Centre, Blk 120 Bukit Merah Lane, Hours: 11am-8pm
This outlet is run by Niven. The chicken is
cut chunky and is ultra-smooth. His chicken sits in cold water so no oils
escape, until it’s ready for the chopping block. It’s the way he chops the fowl
that gives it an edge... clean and precise. His other edge is his ginger sauce,
still done the way his father did so then – rough, with a light blend of dried
ginger, sesame oil and chopped scallions. Only some salt is added to season it.
I love the ginger dip, I skip his sweetish chilli sauce altogether. Truly
Cantonese in style.
Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice,
02-22, Mei Ling Food
Centre, Blk 159 Mei Ling Road , Hours: 11am-3pm (Tue - Thu), 11am- 5pm (Sat
& Sun) (Closed on Mondays)
NIven’s brother, Benson, helms this double
hawker stall. His operation is slick and very confident. His cleaver skill is as
good as his brother’s and the result shows. He stands out front of the stall,
chops non-stop till the last bird is off the shelf, and the queue is endless.
Chilli, just like NIven’s, has a light sweetish fragrance but is altogether
robust. It’s as if lemon, and not calamansi lime, was used. But the ginger dip
comes sans the scallions, as “many of our customers today are not fond of
spring onions, so we did away with it,” says Benson. Rice is similar to his
brother’s version, not too oily and has a bold flavourful edge.
Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice (Commonwealth),
38 Commonwealth Ave 2, 9am-9pm (Closed on alt Mondays)
The new owners have turned this hawker
stall brand into a little café of sorts, dishing out some additional side
dishes to accompany their signature chicken rice. But it feels nothing like the
original Sin Kee, whose recipe these new owners are said to have bought. The
chicken is cut into smaller pieces. It’s above average overall, but not quite
in the league of the other two stalls run by the brothers. Sadly, all three do
not offer up a chilli sauce that will rock my socks off. It’s one notable
glitch. Perhaps that’s how the original was, but it does not wake the palate.