Hainanese chicken rice is one of those dishes that I’ve tasted countless variations of. One restaurant’s variation even serves it with plain, white rice (!), an abomination if you ask me. No wonder they went out of business. I even make my own version of chicken rice at home from what I consider to be a very good recipe. So jaded am I that I probably won’t recognize good (read: authentic) chicken rice even if it comes up and bites me on the butt.
Or so I thought.
Paolo and Karen, our friends living in Singapore, take my Bin and I to what they know to be THE BEST chicken rice in the country: of the 50+ people they’ve brought here, everyone comes away a convert. Impressive, yes?
The place is called Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice & Restaurant. The fact that it’s far from the main drag (Orchard Road), or at least as “far” as can be described considering how small Singapore is, only adds to its irresistible allure. Housed on a strip along with other outdoor eateries, the ambience is completed with giant umbrellas and a glass display case of cooked chickens hung on hooks, their skin glistening with oil and juice. Cue mouth watering.
The fact that it’s already 2:30 pm, way past the lunch hour doesn’t diminish the large crowd here. Seated on plastic chairs or on benches outside, the restaurant has no air-conditioning, just swinging fans strategically positioned on the walls. Heck, these people wouldn’t mind if it became hotter than hell in here, they’d still come for the food!
Here, we get a choice of white (steamed) chicken and/or roasted (soy) chicken — (we decide to have both) ”“ and plain rice cooked in the rendered chicken broth or garlic rice ”“ (we choose the former). Suddenly Karen pipes up, “We’ve got to order the fried prawns with cereal!” So we do, but I’m thinking it’s going to take up unnecessary stomach space. I want to OD (overdose) on chicken rice, man.
Turns out that I’m so taken by Karen’s fried prawns with cereal that she and I end up scraping the plate clean until nary a cereal flake is left. Let me tell you about this dish that so captivates me: cornstarch-dredged prawns are stir-fried in butter that’s been heated with curry leaves and some finger chilies for kick. Once cooked, a mixture of eggs and cream is beat in along with a “cereal mix,” a somewhat discombobulating combination of crispy wheat cereal, sugar, and coffee creamer. It sounds strange but once cooked, the prawns’ crispiness frolics with the crunch of the cereal, releasing a sensual flavor combination that is at once velvety-sweet and tactile. The occasional gush of butter on the tongue amps up the dish’s eroticism. As I crunch away, all I can think about is locking myself up in a room with a large plateful of this cereal. Cue soft, torturous moans.
Lost in my food funk, I almost forget about the chicken rice. Cooked just until its juices run clear, the meat is delicate, its taste evocative of sesame oil, ginger, and shredded green onions, the same ingredients used for the dipping sauce. Each of us has his/her own recipe for what goes into it: I prefer a little bit of everything plus a dollop of chili oil. An occasional bite of the cucumbers and cilantro keeps my palate fresh, wanting more, oh, so much more.
As we eat, there’s lots of hot Chinese tea to wash everything down. Oddly enough, I stop eating and close my eyes. I hear the thwack of the chef’s knife slicing through tender chicken, hear the excited chattering of diners nearby, hear my Bin’s muffled groans of pleasure, and above it all, I hear my heart and stomach, both beating happily, both full.
Part 3 to be posted tomorrow.
Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice & Restaurant
275 Thomson Road,
#01-05 Novena Ville, Singapore
Tel: 6255 6396
Open 10 am ”“ 2 am