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loy kee chicken rice
Photograph: Loy Kee Chicken Rice

Makan Spotlight: Chicken rice

Where to get the best of Singapore's national dish

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Singapore's pride and joy: chicken rice. Originating in Hainan, China as wenchang chicken – a bony free-range chicken boiled in pork bone and chicken bone stock, served with oily rice and garlic, ginger and salt dips – it came under the influence of Cantonese cooking techniques in Singapore approximately 60 years ago, and evolved into the beloved dish we know today.  

It's a wonder that such a simple dish made up of only three main components – chicken, rice and chilli – can bring so much satisfaction. But such simplicity means higher stakes, as every part has to be done just right. The rice has to be fragrant with ginger and spices and not too dry nor mushy; the poached chicken must be tender and juicy, with a smooth skin; finally, the chilli-ginger sauce should be appropriately punchy. 

There's a chicken rice stall at every hawker centre and on every street corner. It's safe to say that many do a decent rendition of the humble dish, and tastes will always differ when it comes to appointing the best in Singapore. Nevertheless, we've rounded up a few top-rated stalls as well as some venues that are doing chicken rice a little differently. 

RECOMMENDED: Makan Spotlight: Nasi Lemak and Makan Spotlight: Laksa

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Chinatown

There are only three components of this dish: the chicken, the rice and the chilli. But while chicken rice can be found in almost every kopitiam in Singapore, not many get the holy trinity right. Tian Tian is one of them – no wonder why it commands a constant queue at Maxwell Food Centre. The chicken (only steamed versions here) is tender and juicy, the fragrant rice is packed with flavour from the garlic, sesame oil and chicken fat it’s cooked in, and the potent chilli sauce packs a mean punch.

 

  • Restaurants
  • Singaporean
  • Marine Parade

Located in the basement of Katong Shopping Centre, this humble chicken rice stall has been around for a long time. Yet, many still flock over, braving long queues and waiting times for a taste of its tasty chicken, rice, achar, soup and vegetables. The chicken is the star here – poached and then soaked in cold water, it creates a jelly-like layer under the skin which soaks up soy sauce nicely. The rice pales in comparison, but is still commendable. A bonus is the soup – instead of the usual pale and colourless fare, here you can tuck in bowls of rich pork rib, peanut and lotus root soup. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Singaporean
  • Novena

Established in 1953, Loy Kee is an iconic brand in the Hainanese chicken rice landscape in Singapore. The key to their success is simplicity. The rice is cooked in a garlicky chicken broth which lends its fragrance. Vegetables are fresh and prepared in a light soy sauce. Choose either steamed chicken or the crispy skin roasted chicken. Some might find the flavours too light, but it's all too easy to amp it up with the chilli sauce, dark soy sauce or ginger paste available at the store.

A different kind of chicken rice

McDonald's Crispy Hainanese Chicken Burger
Photograph: McDonald’s® Singapore

McDonald's Crispy Hainanese Chicken Burger

As with most of the local-themed burgers from McDonald's, this one comes with mixed reviews. The latest of the lot and one to commemorate Singapore's most iconic dish – and National Day – the Crispy Hainanese Chicken Burger features a juicy crispy chicken patty, shredded veggies in ginger and garlic sauce and a separate sachet of dark sweet sauce to drizzle over the patty. The verdict? It's a tad too sweet and the ginger and garlic could afford to be more pronounced but it does emulate the flavours in a dish of chicken rice, even though it is very slight. 

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Jurong West

Chicken rice stalls are aplenty in Singapore, but those selling chicken rice balls are much rarer. Qi Lin Xuan Chicken Rice in Jurong West is a cheap and delicious option if you're craving this Malaccan speciality. Each uniform white globe of rice only costs $0.40 apiece and is loaded with extra spices and chicken oil so that every bite is fragrant and satisfying. To accompany, pick between the traditional steamed or roasted chicken, as well as its special soya sauce chicken. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Singaporean
  • City Hall

We guarantee you've never seen such a classy plate of chicken rice. A signature dish on mod-Sin restaurant Labyrinth's menu, this rendition of the popular local classic draws from Chef Han's beloved grandmother's recipes. Named 'ang moh' chicken rice, it comes topped with silky, locally sourced kampong chicken – though what really sets it apart is the creamy chicken mushroom soup and black truffle sauce, stuff you'd be hard-pressed to find at regular hawker stalls. It's a luxurious take, balanced well by a spicy chilli and garlic sauce. 

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Raffles Place

It's difficult to get bored of chicken rice, and that rings even truer at 13 Stages, a casual eatery set up by local celebrity host Mark Lee. Instead of the usual steamed and roasted chicken, the menu here boasts seven different sauced chickens. Go herbal with the dang gui chicken, spicy with the mala chicken, or sweet and sour with the assam chicken. Other flavours include curry chicken, sesame, samsui, Indonesian and imperial ginger. Located in Guoco Tower, the chicken rice at 13 Stages make for a good lunch hour treat. 

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