I set foot in Singapore at 1:30PM, a full three hours before Char and my friend Daryl were set to arrive. It was past lunchtime, I was starving, and the idea of walking around looking for holes-in-the-wall to eat in excited me. The sun was hot, the air was stuffy, and Singapore city was beautiful.
I climbed down the hill that our hotel was perched upon (I’m not kidding), walked ten minutes to have my dollars changed, and took a few more steps down to find exactly what I was looking for.
I have loved Hainanese Chicken Rice since I was a child, and was delighted to find that the world-famous Wee Nam Kee opened a branch at nearby Alabang Town Center early this year. Wee Nam Kee had expanded to a worldwide franchise, having started as a small joint in Singapore.
Their chicken rice was delicious. However, as with any mega-expanded former-hole-in-the-wall, there were few things lacking in the way of… authenticity. Of course, I admit that it must be difficult to maintain a genuine Chicken Rice place atmosphere inside a shopping mall in the middle of the city metro. But it was the little things that I missed, like having a bottle of HOISIN sauce alongside the ginger and chili, instead of the more popular soy sauce.
Needless to say, one of my “missions” upon traveling to Singapore was to find a place similar to what Wee Nam Kee used to be: a hot, busy, hole-in-the-wall Hainanese Chicken Rice place.
So I climbed down from our little mountain and walked and walked and walked until that fateful moment that I found Sing Ho Hainan.
The smell of chicken rice permeated through the open air. Waitresses in orange were busy running around taking and delivering orders. And on the table was a jar of ginger, a tub of chili, and… HOISIN sauce in a squirt bottle. No Kikkoman in sight.
It was about as authentic as any Chicken Rice place I’ve ever seen.
I ordered their basic chicken rice meal, which included a choice of white or roasted chicken, a cup of chicken rice, wanton soup, and some vegetables.
The chicken appeared as if there was a lot left to be desired. Specifically, the skin. It was meat from the breast, with only a tiny sliver of skin over the first three slices. If I hadn’t held off on judging the place, I would have been disappointed.
Until I took a bite. And another. And another, with more ginger, some chili, and hoisin. And a spoonful of rice. And another bite, another spoonful, more chili, another spoonful, another bite.
I have had Chicken Rice my entire life, but I think I had just had the best in the world.
The white meat of the chicken was so tasty, it matched the best hainanese-cooked chicken thighs I’ve had. The hoisin sauce, mixed with chili and a lot of ginger, was divine. And the rice (the rice!) was… perfect.
I wolfed all of this down in less than ten minutes, and I was hungry for more. I ordered some more rice, a serving of white chicken, and… hainanese-cooked chicken liver.
At this point, I think, my brain exploded. If the pleasure center of my brain had pants, they would be wet. With sheer delight.
The almost-bitter umami overload of the liver served as an extremely seductive foreground to the flavors of the chicken breast. It was difficult to have more than a small piece with each bite–the ginger infused-liver flavor was so powerful, so packed in volume with its flavor. A small piece of liver, with a slice of chicken, covered in ginger, chili, and hoisin, on a spoonful-bed of rice, was enough to make me roll my eyes to the back of my head.
It was that good. And it was only my first meal in Singapore.