May 21, 2016

Singapore trip 2016 day 1: Thanks a lot, Tony Bourdain! (again)

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So I'm back in Singapore on my annual conference trip, and as usual I'm spending a few extra days here to meet up with friends... and EAT!  As I have arrived at lunch time, I headed out to find some food as soon as I dropped my luggage off in my hotel room.

Believe it or not, I actually don't eat much Hainanese chicken rice (海南雞飯) in Singapore.  While that may sound sacrilegious, the reality is that the dish is available readily in Hong Kong, and what's on offer in Singapore isn't necessarily significantly better than what I can get in Hong Kong.  So I usually save my stomach space for specific restaurants I want to try out in Singapore, or for food that I can't easily find outside of Singapore.

I've heard about Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (天天海南雞飯) at Maxwell Food Centre for years, but never really had the urge to go.  When all the tourists seem to be heading to just the one place that they've all heard about for this iconic dish, that often spells like a serious land mine best avoided.

As it turns out, I'm staying within walking distance of Maxwell Food Centre at the start of this trip, so I figured I might as well scratch this one off the list...

Well of course there's a line at the famous chicken rice stall!  I dutifully line up behind a bunch of tourists, camera in hand.  Thankfully the wait wasn't long - within my normal tolerance of 15 minutes - and soon I was carrying my tray around trying to find a seat.

Hainanese chicken rice, medium portion (海南雞飯, 中) - yes, the white meat of the chicken was very, very tender.  And moist.  And fluffy.  It was almost as soft as some types of tofu (豆腐), or cotton balls.

And that's kinda exactly what I think is wrong with it.  While I'm not a fan of overcooked chicken (especially breast meat) that shows me what it's like to chew on pieces of rubber, I also prefer my chicken with a little bit of bite.  I don't want my chicken to yield effortlessly to my teeth.  I want it to resist a little, before finally surrendering.

I also want my chicken to taste like chicken.  That might seem like a ridiculously obvious statement, but these days so many battery farm chickens we come across taste completely bland, including this one.  If it weren't for the sauce that was lathered on top and the chili lime sauce on the side, I might as well be eating chunks of tofu.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that this was the worst plate of chicken rice I've ever had.  Far from it.  But I just don't understand the popularity of this place... and why there's always a long line here when there are 3 other stalls selling Hainanese chicken rice in the very same row as this stall.  Is this simply a case of herd mentality, spurred on by Anthony Bourdain telling the world that this was the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore?  Is this the Singaporean version of what happened in Bali?

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