Thursday, April 17, 2014

Uncle Chicken - The David Niven of Chicken Rice

I grew up eating the famous Margaret Drive Chicken Rice, otherwise known as Sin Kee Chicken Rice. That chicken rice place has since closed, along with the equally famous hawker centre housing it.

The uncle that used to run the stall has also passed away, but his legacy remains. His elder son, runs a new Sin Kee outlet at Mei Ling Road, whilst his younger brother is operating another outlet at Alexandra Village.

It may be named Uncle Chicken, but he is a man that is hardly a relic of the past. Niven, the younger brother, is determined not just to carry on his late father's recipe, but to improve on it.

Niven is Cantonese, so you cannot really say his chicken rice is authentic Hainanese, nor does he wants to. His philosophy is that he believes that food can evolve, and not just be a standstill.  So his version of Chicken Rice is kind of a combination of various styles of Chicken Rice.

Talking to him was a revelation of sorts. He was very engaging, and more than willing to share his cooking with whoever wants to listen. And what he had to say was valuable.

Flavorful Chicken Rice

His chicken rice was cooked using pure chicken stock, meaning he did not boil a separate pot of broth made from chicken bones, but simply using the same water that was used to boil his chicken. Neither does he use ginger, as his aromatics only consist of shallots and garlic.

Despite the absence of ginger, the rice was appropriately fragrant and supremely flavorful. The grains were perfectly cooked as well, not too dry and not too mushy, but just the right texture and suitably fluffy. One of the best chicken rice around town.

Steamed Chicken

As for the chicken meat itself, it was very well cooked. Although not perfectly pink as I would have preferred, it was beautifully tender and still moist within due to the superior chopping skills exhibited.

Niven shared that his dad never actually taught him how to chop, but told his sons to watch him work every day so that the sons could learn how to chop on their own. Through his own experience and hard work, I would endorse Niven as one of the finest choppers around outside of Sergeant Kiang.

Plain Breast Meat

Indeed, he shares the same philosophy with Sgt Kiang that having good chopping skills is very important to preserving the moisture within the meat, and he actually treated us to another plate of plain chicken breast meat just to prove his point.

Removing the extraneous soya sauce and sesame oil, you could taste the chicken flavors in its entirety and boy, was that an utter delight. For chicken rice purists, if you come here, do ask Niven to hold off on the soya and sesame, as they will overpower the beauty of the well cooked chicken meat flavors.

Chilli and Scallion Ginger

Niven's condiments were pretty on the mark too. In particular, his ginger and scallion dip was heavenly. Just on its own, it packed a lot of punch and the sweetness of the scallions combined with the zing of the ginger was nicely judged and balanced.

The chilli was pretty alright, until Niven revealed a special batch where he only provides to his VIP customers, and then it knocked our socks off. It packed more than a wallop, and then some. And yet, you could taste all the ingredients within, and when used with the chicken meat, it was a total winner.

Niven the Man

Sir David Niven was not only one of the finest British actors to grace the silver screen, he was also one of the classiest. While Sir David was not one of the best looking actors around, his grace and charisma and easy charm easily won over audiences for many decades.

Likewise, Niven has an easy going nature which makes for a very pleasant experience when you visit his place. For a hawker, he was more articulate than most restaurant owners I know and his amiable personality made him easy to converse with.

But what struck me as his most impressive quality, was not how good his combination of steamed chicken, rice and condiments was, but his willingness to share and improve on a legacy that his father had built.

2.5kg Chickens

The condiments, in particular, are his own creation and not part of his dad's recipe. And he is justifiably proud to tell his customers so. His willingness to listen to feedback and even recommend other surrounding stalls also shows he is not just encapsulated in his own world, but always exploring and experimenting.

This is how our own food culture should evolve. Not merely replicating what has gone before, but making strides to create new and improved recipes so that the legacy can not only live on, but prosper in the longer run.

As for Niven's own favorite chicken rice, He mentioned Thien Kee from Golden Mile. He must be modest in that regard, for his own chicken rice has far surpassed the classic dry and bland chicken rice of old.

Uncle Chicken, neither traditional nor authentic, nor Hainanese or Cantonese. Simply brilliant.

Uncle Chicken (formerly Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice)
Alexandra Village Food Centre
120 Bukit Merah Lane 1

1 comment:

  1. Uncle Chicken Rice has moved to Bedok Market Place @ 348 Bedok Road.