But still, I was longing for that classic style of Hainanese chicken rice which Twe Kee did so exceptionally well, and how rare is it to find true and traditional chicken rice these days.
The branded chicken rice names have all gone modern and heavy handed in their handling of boiled chickens, and the overpowering seasoning from these places has put me off from visiting places like Tian Tian and Boon Tong Kee ever again.
I craved for that honest and flavorful chicken taste of Twe Kee, and until this discovery, the closest I could get is Upper Thonson's Wee Name Kee, which is good but still a distant second from Twe Kee.
Fortunately, thanks to an enthusiastic Teochew lady owner and a returning Hainanese, we are yet able to savor some truly classic chicken flavors. And yes, some of the younger generation might not appreciate this, but older folks will certainly gravitate towards this older style of chicken rice.
|Roasted and White Chicken|
Located in the same hawker centre that houses Hill Street Char Kway Teow, Mdm Yang who has only been operating this business for just over 2 months with lead cook, Richard Cheng is highly affable and passionate about her chicken rice.
They sourced their own 2kg chickens which looked obviously plump from the display windows, and like all good hainan stalls, make their own condiments of chilli and ginger paste. You can tell this is old school just from the ginger, which is just pure grated ginger with no salt added.
The roasted chicken was admittedly less spectacular than its white counterpart, but was still fragrant and moist nevertheless. The skin lacked a certain crispness but it was still full of roasted fragrance and the backside (if you know how to appreciate this) was beautifully juicy and flavorful. And somewhat fatty, but that really packed a punch of chicken goodness.
The white chicken was what we came here for, and it was nearly as good as the Twe Kee's one. The only difference was that this chicken was dipped in cold water and there was a nice layering of jelly like texture on the skin.
I was afraid that this cold dip might remove some of the more intense chicken flavors from the meat, but thankfully, the meat textures and flavors were still preserved, albeit less intensive than Twe Kee's.
The meat, just like Twe Kee's, had that incredible bite and bounce to it, and despite this bite, it was still wonderfully tender within. It still retained some of the beautiful meat and condiment flavors from the cooking broth and for a few seconds, we were transported back to Twe Kee Land.
Coupled with the light but slightly sweet seasoning, this chicken really stood out for the subtle and beautiful textures that you can never get from a commercial chicken rice stall these days. And the freshly made chilli sauce and ginger were also well made and stood true to its origins.
What was less impressive was the rice. Though it had a hint of chicken and ginger flavors, it was definitely lacking in intensity to go with the beautiful chicken, and hence it was almost a let down. Mdm Yang did promise to work on the rice recipe and hopefully by the next time we return, it would be packing a bit more flavor and punch.
|White Cabbage Soup|
Most of the time, the soup that comes with chicken rice is either bland like drain water or overpowered with MSG. What was surprising was this white cabbage soup was incredibly flavorsome and naturally sweet.
Mdm Yang shared with us that the broth was mainly made with white cabbage that was cooked until the sweetness was fully extracted, and a touch of chicken fat added into the mix just to enhance the flavors. It was that good and this was reflected by how many times we asked for a refill of this amazing broth.
And when paired with the acidic ginger juices, it gave a nice punch to the sweet and savory taste of the soup and brought it to another level altogether. Given that the rice was a bit bland, this soup more than made up for it.
Richard himself seemed to be very skilled in cooking the chicken, and given more time, I have the confidence that they will improve the rice, which is the main flaw of this chicken rice stall at this moment.
Richard himself has been away from Singapore and working in Papua New Guinea for the last few years, and we are fortunate that he has decided to return to our shores to restore some of the classic taste of real and authentic Hainanese chicken rice.
It is rather sad that these days, people only talk about the big names in chicken rice and ignore the good old days of making this classic dish. And as the likes of Twe Kee fade into history, chicken rice is getting more and more commercialized these days, and unjustly praised by those that seem to be bent on making it more savory and heavy handed.
For another generation of chicken rice lovers, especially for those who are turned off by the commercial chicken rice players, this will be a superb alternative and a great way to relive some classic chicken rice memories.
Traditional Hainan Chicken Rice
Bedok South Road