[SG] Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice - Hawker Hero or Zero?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

With the recent hype surrounding Singtel's Hawker Heroes Challenge where our local hawker legends would be pitting their culinary skills against Michelin-starred chef, Gordon Ramsay, I thought that it would be good to have a food taste session of the respective 'heroes' ourselves just for curiosity sake of answering the simple question of whether these nominated hawkers are the top of their class.

Personally, I felt that there were many other unnamed 'heroes' who had been humbly serving their faithful patrons for years or even decades who probably deserved better recognition than some of the nominees. For the record, I did not cast a single vote for the three top hawkers who would be standing up to this challenge to defend the pride of our local cuisine. 'Why?' is the question one might ask and the answer is simple. I am proud of our Singapore cuisine and I see no need for us to win over Gordon Ramsay or whoever just to prove that our hawker food taste good. I know for a fact that Singapore food is simply brilliant. It is part of our legacy and heritage and defines who we are as Singaporeans, so there is no taking away, none of that. Oh, and try living overseas for a couple of years and you will soon find yourself craving desperately for a plate of char kway teow or chicken rice. So, is there a better testament to the definition of good food than your body? Certainly not, not in my case anyway.

Quite frankly, I found the whole challenge to be rather commercial but let us not digress further because after-all if you are here reading, I presume you would be more interested to learn about the yay and nay of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, so let us deliver our verdict!

Signature Chicken Rice (S$3.50/-)

I was taken aback upon the first spoonful because the steamed chicken was served slightly chilled only to realize that it was their style. The purpose of serving the steamed chicken just below room temperature was not only to give a refreshing twist but rather to soothe the heat from the accompanying chilli sauce.

The chicken portions were tender and slightly moist, making it very delectable. The chicken breast pieces did not taste dry where you would be left with strands of the white meat. Instead, it tasted supple and delicate. As detailed previously in my write-up on Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice, I believe that there is a 3 part decorum to complete that unique 'Chicken Rice Experience', which comprised of the chicken, the rice and the chilli sauce. While the chicken passed the mark with flying colours, we were largely dismayed by the mildly sweet sauce poured over the protein. Typically or label me stereotyping, I was expecting a slightly savoury, perhaps saline sauce to accompany the rice and meat so I was slightly taken aback. The second mouthful was a much clearer assessment and still, it failed to appeal to my palate. The sauce was light, slightly saccharine, gluey and seemingly lacked boldness in flavour. Then again, subjectively, I prefer my chicken rice traditionally paired with a savoury touch from the soy sauce so this was an abrupt upset to my expectations.

The rice was a beautiful accompaniment to the dish and would be a proud side standalone. According to Anthony Bourdain, 'the rice can be taken alone. Although simple, it delivers a taste that develops wonderfully and engages with the senses'. Was it that good? Well, taste is a very subjective issue and on that basis, I would choose to answer with our perspective. The rice grains were easily separated yet not overly greasy to satiate our appetite. It felt light, smooth and had a surprisingly buttery flavour to it with a hint of garlic in the after-taste. There was also a strong chicken fragrance to the rice and would easily shine in the limelight.

For the heat-conscious foodies, I would exercise caution on the chilli sauce for it was strong. The spice and heat from the chilli was bold and it was beautifully neutralized with the acidity from the lime juice. The chillis were evenly blended to a high degree of fineness, resulting in a smooth mixture. It aced the chilli test, no doubt about it.

Verdict: 8.0/10

As we visited during the peak lunch period, a queue was inevitable. They had two stalls operating concurrently alongside each other. Do note that within each stall itself, there were two queues. One would need to queue to place their order on the right hand aisle and upon making payment, make sure you retai your receipt and obediently hop over to join the second queue on the adjacent left to collect your order.

I am divided when it comes to announcing Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice as 'THE' chicken rice stall in Singapore, not to mention defending our heritage reputation against Gordon Ramsay. I believe there is no better dish among the two because their creations will only showcase their respective unique cooking style. For this very same reason, I am adamant that I will never be able to find the best chicken rice stall in Singapore because each chef has his or her unique skill to flare and for that, I respect each and every at their trade. It sounds oxymoronic that I hope that Mdm Foo will win the contest tomorrow because regardless the outcome, her business will continue to thrive post-competition where only more Singaporeans and foreigners will join the ranks of queuing.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Stall 10, Maxwell Food Centre
Singapore 069184
Operating Hours: 11am - 8pm
Closed on Mondays

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