I frequent Tian Tian before they got their Michelin Bib Gourmand award and when my office was at International Plaza. They serve really good Hainanese chicken rice.
Because of their fame, Maxwell Market is filled with tourists that come to “punch card” 打卡 – Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers are all congregated here, peaceful and enjoying their chicken rice. Look, we are all not so different when it comes to food. Why can’t we all get along?
Tian Tian has been voted as the best chicken rice hawker stall in Singapore by local foodies. Anthony Bourdain, an American celebrity chef, host of Travel Channel’s culinary, has reported that “Chicken rice is so fragrant and delicious that it can be eaten on its own”. Even Gordon Ramsay came to challenge Tian Tian to replicate their chicken rice and failed.
But the main accolade that they have received in recent years is the Michelin Singapore Bib Gourmand award since 2016. This is the one award that catapulted them into the stellar. Queueing here was usually CRAZY@!@#@! with the line meandering behind the store. It was almost 1.30pm when I came for lunch on a weekday. The lunchtime crowd of the area has mostly gone back. Queuing in front was a Taiwanese free-and-easy group, behind me a Japanese family and also a couple of Koreans. It seems that I am the only Singaporean here. Bad omen.
The Bib Gourmand award is also a curse, i.e. they cannot raise their prices up to the stellar either. So you can still get a tasting portion for $3.50, a price that is similar to chicken rice everywhere these days. But one would not order this size for lunch unless you are a really small eater.
Everything else remains (for now) still reasonable – $24 for a whole chicken, which is the most popular order size for tourists. So the lady boss was not really friendly towards walk-ins like us anymore.
I ordered steamed chicken lower section, which is thigh and drumstick part of the chicken or that the American friends would call dark meat. I prefer that cut because it is most tender and has proper fat distribution.
“Steamed” is a misrepresentation. It is more poached and then quickly chilled so the fats between the skin and the meat became a delicious gel. The gizzard is also cooked perfectly – just right with the right crunch. But the liver was overcooked – not recommended.
Instead of the normal sesame oil-soy sauce dressing, they have made a sauce (thickened dressing) out of the same combination. It is OK.
Rice sounds simple, but is the cornerstone of Tian Tian. The rice is cooked in the chicken stock to perfection – full of flavour and oily as the way Hainanese chicken rice should be. Every spoonful of rice had a robust umami flavour which kept us going back for more.
If chicken is the flesh and rice is the backbone to a good chicken rice, the chilli is its soul. Instead of the usual chilli-ginger-black sauce combination that you mix on your own, Tian Tian has reduced it to a single saucer so you cannot mix and match according. It is a good chicken rice chilli – a right mix of garlic, chilli and ginger with chicken oil. They don’t give black soy sauce any more, and they were quite stingy with the chilli as well.
Overall, the damage was $11. They did not give any soup (the watered down chicken stock) and were stingy on the chilli. The overall taste was quite good, but most chicken rice stores have raised their game, so there’s a reason why they have not gone crazy with the price and lose the local clientele. However, the service was prompt despite the queue, but they don’t take customisation.
Besides the original stall at Maxwell Food Centre, Tian Tian has expanded to other locations. If you prefer to have the same quality chicken rice at an air-conditioned place (read: higher prices), just visit its outlet at Joo Chiat Road that also offers a selection of Hainanese dishes to compliment your meal.
Another store to try next – just two store down is Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice. Ah Tai, the owner, was the head chef of Tian Tian. After a spate, he left and opened his own. Most said it’s better. Will try soon.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
1 Kadayanallur St, #01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184
Tel : 9691 4852
Date Visited : Aug 2019
Michelin Singapore guide, Bib Gourmand 2016-2018