Singapore’s national dish is called chicken rice, not chicken and rice (there is a difference if you want to pretend to be a local). Originating from Hainan, China, chicken rice is commonly called Hainanese chicken rice and can be found in all hawker centres in Singapore.
A hawker centre (above) is place where you can find tonnes of small food stalls where ‘hawkers’ (the individual in charge of the stall) sells inexpensive food. How inexpensive? A Hainanese chicken rice meal will cost you about $2.00 (SGD) and if you splurge for vegetables on the side it will cost an extra dollar. It’s no wonder that when I tell people that I cook my own meals at home, they look at me like they are watching a horror movie.
Hawker centres are an experience of a life time and a must-do on any trip to Singapore. They are usually open-air complexes that are found near public housing, between train stations, and close to malls. On the outside, hawker centres look dirty and rundown, but they are completely safe and strictly regulated by government bodies. You can usually find at least 10 different types of cuisines in a hawker centre (Malay, Korean, Japanese, Western, etc), so there is no need to worry about going hungry.
So what makes chicken rice so special?
Here are five reasons why the chicken rice in Singapore is like to no other:
So tenderly juicy, you cannot help but appreciate the soft texture of the chicken, cooked to perfection every time; it’s never chewy. Not to mention, you have the option to choose what type of chicken you want; roasted, boiled, deep-fried, with skin or without skin.
2. The rice is cooked in chicken broth:
Nothing goes to waste at a chicken rice food stall. The hawkers use the chicken bones to make the most intensely chicken flavoured broth. The rice is then cooked in this broth and transformed from a dull carb to a buttery side dish.
3. The dark soya sauce:
Chicken rice is not chicken rice without the special sweet dark soya sauce. This sauce is as thick as honey, and usually blended with some garlic and chili. To counter balance the slightly savoury chicken, this sauce offers a candy-like flavour to the meal. It’s usually drizzled over the chicken or the vegetables.
4. Deep fried shallots:
I’m not really a fan of anything deep fried, but the hawkers usually top chicken rice with a few deep fried shallots. They add a much needed crunch to the meal, which is unbelievably addictive.
A hawker centre can expose a person to hundreds of different dishes, but being a foreigner, sometimes you simply don’t know what you are ordering. After a long day at work, I know my chicken rice will always be there for me, and always tantalize my taste buds. In a way, it’s like having a dog; chicken rice is loyal, reliable, and it always brings a smile to my face.
The next time you’re in Singapore, experience a local hawker centre and of course, you can’t go wrong with ordering chicken rice (unless you ask for chicken AND rice).