My first encounter with 169 Hainanese Chicken Rice at Chinatown was less than spectacular, one could say. 20 minutes of hurried walking later, I flip through rows and rows of stalls and nearly give up my firstborn before finally locating the elusive unit—only to find the stallholders packing up and cleaning. As it turns out I’d missed their closing time by mere minutes. Well someone needs to tell them to update their terribly outdated operating hours on Google, and this is me aggressively and pleadingly doing so. Maybe I should’ve given up that firstborn after all.
Either way, I’m here now again, so second time’s the charm when it comes to chicken rice apparently. I’ve made sure to reach just shy of their opening time, so disappointment is not an option this time. Recommended by one of our readers, user @fongyewmeng on Facebook, 169 Hainanese Chicken Rice is generally looked to as one of the best places for chicken rice in Singapore—a quick Google search explains it all.
What I tried
You’ll realise that the chicken rice stall doesn’t have an extensive menu, but then again, great establishments shouldn’t have to. It’s a baller move that’s testament to just how much confidence they have in their offerings, and I respect that. For one, there’s only one preparation method to the chicken—steamed—which is so aptly portrayed by the graphic, more-than-dead chicken on the right-hand corner of their signboard, sprawled for all to see. And what a mood, she is.
I dive in for the Chicken Rice With Thigh Part (S$7), which is a step up from the regular chicken rice servings that go for S$3, S$4, and S$5. As with everything in life, there’s no room for mediocrity. If I’m going to have chicken rice, you best bet it’ll be the tender-most portion of the chicken. But then again, people are dying, Kim, so who am I to be picky.
My Editor-in-Chief, Zat, asks, “What makes a good chicken rice, Vera?” Well, the thing with chicken rice is that because it’s so widely available and respected, and arguably even Singapore’s national dish, there’s hardly any room for error. Each element on the plate should be executed with precision and intentionality, and anything less would fall short.
Let’s start with the rice.
Good chicken rice should carry ample fragrance without being too overpowering, should be adequately seasoned without being overly salty, and should be cooked to al dente perfection. It’s big shoes to fill, no doubt, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been achieved before.
As I so aggressively recommend to everyone, Good Feel Hainanese Chicken Rice along New Upper Changi Road does its chicken rice to tee, and has, in my books, much to look up to. So far, the rice at 169 Hainanese Chicken Rice also checks all the boxes, so we’re already off to a good start.
The one thing that strikes me the most is how everything here is served very unceremoniously on styrofoam plates; how so very ‘BBQ chicken wings’ of them. It definitely eases them up in the cleaning department, but somehow chicken rice is just not the same if not served on quintessential hawker centre plastic crockery.
For good measure, and also because there’s nothing very much else on the menu, the Beansprouts Chicken Rice Set (S$4.50) is next on my order list. For just S$4.50, the set presents a portion of rice, soup, one person’s portion of chicken, and of course, bean sprouts. Quite the steal if you’re looking for a value-for-money lunch in the area, I say.
Heaps of bean sprouts (which is one of my biggest food nightmares) sit next to a portion of steamed chicken, but for objectivity’s sake, I put aside my disdain for the dreaded shoot—as all food writers should. There’s nothing very much to critique about the bean sprouts, other than the fact that they’re crunchy and generously drenched in light soy sauce, so you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not just crunching mouthfuls of earthy sprouts.
And finally, we’ve reached what most readers came here for—the chicken. My usual order at any chicken rice stall is always steamed chicken anyway, so I definitely take no issue with being limited to it here. Though, roast chicken buffs would probably have a gripe to take up with the stall owners.
Silky smooth skin marinated in an umami soy sauce is delightful no doubt, but I’m expecting the chicken meat itself to be much more tender, given the hype surrounding the place. It didn’t possess the texture of brined chicken that I’m hoping for, but it’s still softer than many of its other counterparts by a mile.
Vera’s ‘Chef’s Kiss Award’
At long last, my ‘Chef’s Kiss Award’ makes its comeback after an involuntary hiatus because of the recent string of less-than-inspiring food. I’ll just cut to the chase and bestow the rice from 169 Hainanese Chicken Rice with a well-deserved Chef’s Kiss.
They’ve succinctly managed to encapsulate and materialise my humble expectations of chicken rice, which is surprisingly a lot less common than one would think.
My trips to 169 Hainanese Chicken Rice have been less than smooth, to say the least—from arriving at the sight of stallholders shuttering the stall the first time I came to getting kopi spilt all over my sandals when I was queueing up during my second visit. It’s been quite the treacherous adventure for a taste of chicken rice.
Was it worth it? For the sole reason of it being pretty darn good chicken rice, I’m saying yes. But hopefully with cleaner shoes the next time I make the trip down.
Expected damage: S$3 – S$7 per pax
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