Singapore’s World Famous Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice holds the title as Singapore’s “national dish.”  If not officially declared it is certainly the most popular food with tourists and my two-year old daughter.   Last year, CNN even ranked it as number 45 on its list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.

I have ordered Chicken Rice several times at the food markets.  The chicken either roasted or braised is served with rice, chili sauce, ginger paste, soy sauce and a bowl of broth.  I have never been completely certain how to mix the ingredients together.   My mom is visiting from Chicago so with the guidance of Ruqxana from Cookery Magic we attempted to unravel the secrets of Chicken Rice.

For a tender chicken Ruqxana stressed the importance of using a fresh bird that simmers but never boils in a homemade broth.  The chicken is stuffed with aromatics, rubbed with salt and chinese wine then stirred in the broth by its feet for ten minutes. We brought the liquid to a quick boil and removed from the heat to simmer for a few ten minute cycles until done.

My mom demonstrates the proper technique for stirring a chicken by its feet 🙂

While the chicken cooked, we prepared several sauces.  The ginger dipping sauce is a lovely mixture of ginger, garlic, chicken stock, lime juice, sugar and salt.  The chili mixture had similar ingredients but with the addition of two types of red chilies.  We added extra small spicy ones to take it up a notch.

The rice was stir-fried before steaming in a garlic infused oil.  Some chicken fat was also rendered and added to the mix.  After the chicken was completely cooked we submerged it in an ice-cold bath.

The bird did not look very happy about its predicament.  However, there was a much happier creature nearby, a cat kept batting at my feet for attention as I chopped.  She had recently decided to have her kittens near the cooking school.  Smart kitty indeed!

After the soup was prepared from the broth and garnished with cilantro, chinese cabbage and spring onions, we enjoyed the product of our labor.  It was a wonderful afternoon I am hoping to recreate this dish when I return home in a few months.

If you want to try it yourself there is a recipe on Saveur magazine’s website which approximates what we made today or you can hop on a plane and book a lovely afternoon at Cookery Magic.

Little India: A Food Lovers Nirvana

Little India as the name suggests is the bustling center of SIngapore’s large Indian community.

Saturday afternoon we decided to have lunch at the Spice Junction which is known for their southern Indian food.   One house specialty, Meen Pollichathu,  is white fish marinated with spices; wrapped in banana leaves and broiled on an iron griddle.   It was wonderful.

Little India is well known for its markets.  The streets are lined with carts selling fragrant flower garlands.  The aroma is so sweet and unique it brought back wonderful memories of the time I spent in India in 2001.

The Tekka Market has such quality and diversity I have read even Michelin starred chefs collect ingredients for meals in virtually any type of cuisine.

The seafood variety is wonderful both fresh and dried.

A multitude of small dried fish.

Aidan however did not think the smell in the fish area of the market was as pleasurable as the ones by the flowers.

This is as much of a smile we could get out of him near the "smelly fish"

I have to give a special shout out  to the fruit stall where I met my new love, the Mangosteen.  I actually tried it on a tour of the market with Sharm our relocation liaison the first day I was in Singapore.  I am so obsessed with the taste of this sweet purple fruit that I actually looked up the calorie count to make sure this is really heathy and not some secret weapon sent to destroy the fitness goals of unsuspecting westerns.  Fortunately they are in fact “good for me” so I continue to indulge.

Here is the first meal I make in Singapore.  It was a Wagyu Beef Stir Fry.  The veggies and fruits are from the Tekka Market.  You can see there is a mangosteen on the plate.

Tonight’s dinner, which was leftovers with the kids, must have been extra special because I ate two :).

Finger Foods in Singapore

This morning we had a tour with our “relocation expert” Sharm.  Sharm is ethnically Indian but her family has been in Singapore for three generations.  She is very proud of her country and very helpful as we try to navigate our way around a new culture.  Today Sharm wanted to show us sites that were particularly fun for children, so we all piled into a van and were off to explore the island.  Our first stop was Pasir Ris Park.  It was a lovely series of playgrounds right on the beach on the eastern side of the islands.  Aidan of course buried himself in the sand and became filthy at the first stop.

Then we drove a bit more alone the island to the East Coast Park.  This is a lovely place where families will come on weekends to enjoy the ocean.

All the touring made us hungry so Sharm suggested some “finger foods”.  We drove to the “Little Malay” part of town and stopped at a small restaurant called Kim Choo Kueh Chang.  First we tried some Peranakan food delicacies.  Peranakan is the description of the culture of people who are ethnically Chinese immigrants who have mixed with the  Malay culture since the 16th century.  Essentially it is “local” Singaporean food.  Singapore like the US is a blend of ethnicities so it is very difficult to define local.

The first food we tried was Otah.  This is made from a Mackerel fish paste marinated with chili, lemongrass and othe spices then wrapped in coconut leaves and grilled over a charcoal flame.  You take the toothpicks out of the packet, pop off the top and eat out the the middle.  It was very much like eating a tamale.  A little spicy and very good.

Sydney demonstrates eating Otah.

The second food we tried was Bak Chung.  This is a pyramidal shaped steamed sticky rice dumpling wrapped in leaves and boiled.  The one we sampled was filled with minced pork however they can mushrooms, coriander seeds, mung beans  and even melons.  These were more in the family of dim sum.  The sticky rice was gelatinous and a little sweet.  The pork was a bit spicy which was a nice contrast.

Bak Chung on display

We enjoyed our sample of local “finger foods”.  Aidan liked it so much he congratulated the shopkeeper on a job well done.

“The City That Never Stops Eating”

Anthony Bourdain premiered a new series in November called The Layover. In each episode he lands in a new city and explores the food culture in less than 48 hours.  For his first show he chose Singapore.  His reason, “Singapore’s the city that never stops eating. For a gastro-tourist, somebody who travels to eat, any kind of serious eater, Singapore’s probably the best place you can go for maximum bang in a minimum period of time.”

The quickest and best way to sample food is to go to the Hawker Centers.  This is one of the oldest ways of eating in Singapore.  There you will find a collection of food stalls. Some are very rustic with picnic benches and no AC, others are in fancy department stores.    They all have samples of the dishes either lying out, in plastic replica form or by picture.  You point to what you want and you are on your way.

A Fancy Hawker Center at the High End Takashimaya Department Store

A few more stalls...

This was my lunch today. I have a Thai Green Curry Addiction.

My children happen to love sushi and Japanese food.  Especially Aidan who claims he will eat 10,065 (or whatever big number he throws out at the moment) pieces of tuna when we go to Tokyo in June.  Fortunately for him he does not have to wait that long.  There is a wonderful hawker center literally across the street from us called “The Food Republic”.  He already has his favorite sushi stall and has made friends with the locals.

He also discovered a love for prawn tempura

Sydney Loves the Udon Noodles

In addition to the above mentioned cuisines almost anything else you want you can find.   Last week when walking in a mall Aidan smelled something that smelled so good.  “What’s that smell, Momma?”  I look up and it is a restaurant that makes Rosti, a potato pancake dish famous in Switzerland.  He chose the Rosti with ham.  He and Sydney ate the whole thing and left me with the salad.

He loves Rosti. Now he wants to go to Switzerland too.

After a particularly good meal the kids are prone to break out into their “Happy Dances.”  Their shoes are already nearly worn out.

Aidan's "Happy Dance" after eating the food

Not to be outdone...here is Syd's Happy Dance! Bon Appetit

Local SIngapore food is a mix of what the immigrants from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India have brought.  The names and variety of food are mind boggling.  We have a guide that has 300+ pages of food descriptions and locations to eat them at the hawker center.  It will take me the entire six months of blogging just to scratch the service.  I promise to try as many as possible.