I have something to say that may get my visa revoked. I don’t like Chicken Rice. Now that I’ve confessed, I won’t be surprised if the Singaporean Super Secret Chicken Rice Police come for me tonight under the cover of darkness. This organization is not an arm of the government, but of Singaporean foodies. They’ll place me under some sort of citizen’s arrest and cart me off to an unknown location. It’s your stereotypical intimidation room complete with peeling paint and a solitary lamp swinging above my head. They’ll force-feed me chicken rice until I admit to liking it or until I go crazy and do something that will draw the attention of the real police/government and get my visa revoked.
I’ll probably break and admit to liking it. It’s not bad -I’ll eat it if I have to, but it’s not The Most Amazing Thing Ever, which is the status it seems to garner here. My Makansutra guidebook refers to it as “Singapore’s defacto national dish” and says that the Hainanese created the dish here and evolved it into “cult status.” The dish is exactly what it sounds like – chicken and rice. What makes it unique is that the rice is first fried in garlic, sesame, and chicken oil before boiling in chicken stock. Sliced chicken is served with the rice, along with cucumber and chili sauce.
I tried it at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Stall 10), which is quite famous. TV Host Anthony Bourdain apparently said “wow” after his first bite here. I didn’t understand at first; as you might imagine, the rice tasted like chicken and the chicken tasted like chicken. There weren’t any other flavors, so unless you were sick, I’m not sure why you would choose it over laksa, popiah, or chilli crab. Then it dawned on me – I’ve read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Clearly, Bourdain was smoking before filming, got the munchies, and consequently found the chicken rice amazing. Another possibility (that doesn’t involve the potential for the death penalty) is that he meant “wow,” as in “wow, why does everyone rave about this? It’s just chicken and rice.”
Of course, the third possibility is that I’m being a snob. I can sort of see how the beauty of the dish might lie in its simplicity. That being said, I’ll still eat popiah over chicken rice any day and I know of at least one friend who also thinks chicken rice doesn’t live up to the hype. But another friend really likes it, so I guess in the name of research I’ll have to try it again someplace different.