Last updated on November 30th, 2018
Chicken rice is to Singaporeans, what steak and fries is to Parisians, fish and chips to Londoners etc. You find it everywhere and everybody is eating it at some point or another. I haven’t gone more than a few weeks without eating chicken rice. If you eat at a hawker centre during your lunch break, you’re bound to walk by a chicken rice stall at some point, and unless it is really bad (I’ve never really had bad chicken rice, just okay ones, lah!), you’ll sooner or later eat chicken rice.
What’s Singapore chicken rice?
Chicken rice is a dish from Hainan Province in southern China. It’s travelled with the Chinese Diaspora in Southeast Asia, and you’ll find versions of chicken rice in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia etc.
Although I’ve eaten lots of chicken rice, I’ve never cooked it myself but I’ve watched people make it on a few occasions. Grab a whole chicken, and poach it below boiling temperature (a little simmer is all it needs). Use the resulting chicken stock infused with ginger, garlic and pandan leaves to boil some rice. Dip the cooked chicken in ice water to produce the rubbery jelly skin finish. Serve the bird with the rice accompanied with dark soy sauce, freshly chopped garlic, freshly chopped chili, chili sauce, boiled cucumbers (I prefer the pickled ones), and suitable pickled or fresh vegetables. Don’t forget to drink a whole bowl of chicken stock soup!
Where to find chicken rice in Singapore?
The great thing about chicken rice is that you can have it in all kinds of settings: at a hawker centre for $2.50, all the way to a five star hotel or restaurant for ten times the amount (and maybe a few more trimmings).
Many fine establishments and hawker stalls vie for the title of best chicken rice in Singapore. And you periodically get lists of the top in town. But to tell you the truth, unless you can’t cook, any chicken rice stall is going to have a line of customers at lunch break. Sometimes you have several chicken rice stalls at the same food court, and one of them is going to be the obvious winner of this epic struggle. If you can’t wait and are already hungry, the stall with fewer people lining is probably okay too.
Chicken rice is so popular in Singapore, you won’t have to look for it. It’ll come looking for you!
Breast or leg?
When you order chicken rice, you’ll be asked whether you would like breast meat or leg meat (drumstick). The meat with the rubbery skin will be served, often the bones too (but you can ask breast without bones)! Generally, leg meat tends to be not as well cooked as white meat. So if you like it well done, ask for well cooked leg meat.
Can you have both? I’ve had both breast and leg meat at the same time, but it was in a restaurant. If you want both, you’ll probably have to order two portions or share with a friend.
Getting real fat on chicken rice
What’s good about the chicken rice is the rice soaked in the juices of the chicken. It’s on the oily side, nothing like fried foods, but you won’t need lip balm after your meal. I love alternating between mouthfuls of chicken meat, flavorful rice and the little bits and pieces of spicy, sweet or sour vegetables. Wash everything down with hot tea to try to make chicken rice more digestible. Beer will also do fine.
If you’re watching your weight, you don’t want to finish your rice, focus instead on the meat and vegetables. Oily rice alone is very filling. The average hawker stall will have smaller portions (but they’re usually generous with the rice). Some restaurants will serve mountains of rice as it’s cheaper than meat.
Of course you can also order white steamed rice instead of the oily rice soaked in chicken juices, but you’d be missing out on the fully fledged dish.
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Want more than chicken for lunch? Try Singapore chilli crab, another popular local dish.