Singapore’s chicken rice war

Hainanese Chicken Rice is Singapore’s unofficial national dish and I, for one, can understand why. I adore it. Having discussed the passion for food of all types in Singapore, an open-minded curiosity, a willingness to be both traditional and experimental, it will be no great surprise to discover that ‘best chicken rice’, which is a hawker dish, is a source of endless dispute. Just try keying into a search engine ‘Best chicken rice in Singapore’ and you will be flooded with newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, food site forums. Every day I walked past a branch of Fook Seng Goldenhill which lays claim to being the best – and lots of people agree.

It is such a big thing that Gordon Ramsay thought it was worth while getting into the act, last year competing against various hawkers for a public vote as to best chicken rice. It was with much hoopla and fanfare that Tien Tien of Maxwell Food Centre was declared the winner. Obviously this is a rather meaningless affair, but nonetheless, go to Maxwell Centre and you’ll see the queues for Tien Tien.

Now, as it happens, several doors down is a stall run by Ah Tai. Who? I’m glad you asked. Ah Tai was the master chef at Tien Tien for many years, but left to set up his own business after an argument with his boss, the details of which read like the plot of a Shakespearean thriller. Places where you will read more about this side-line of the chicken rice war are here and here and here and here.

Get the idea? This stuff is the fabric of Singaporean society. Our plan had been to try both Tien Tien and Ah Tai. We went to Ah Tai first and really, it didn’t seem necessary to try Tien as well. What we got – for $3, rather than Tien Tien’s $3.50, I might add – was this:

Ah Tai chicken rice
Ah Tai chicken rice

It may not look like much, but trust me, I could eat it every day. The chilli ginger sauce was excellent, the chicken moist and tender, the rice made me chicken-rice-happy. Somebody reading this will know what that means. I can see I’m going to have to start making this here in Geneva. I don’t really understand how I’ve lived without it for so long now!


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