Saturday, December 11, 2010

the search for the best HCR

HCR is Hainanese Chicken Rice, and it's the national dish of Singapore.

Typing these words right now is making me nervous. Singaporeans become vicious rabid animals when you ask them where you can get the best HCR-- sometimes you don't even have to ask. They'll volunteer the information in the most insistent manner.

I've tried quite a few, both in Singapore (the last time was in February) and Manila, and I know that I have not made even the slightest dent. I am aware that my life is not long enough to be able to taste all the HCR that every red-blooded Singaporean reckons is the best.

In the end, I had to go with him: The guy. Numero uno. Anthony Bourdain.


Actually, Bourdain got it from a reputable source, the Makanguru himself K. F. Seetoh, and even the food bloggers agree. Tian Tian Hainanase Chicken Rice is worth a visit.

Their "upscale" branch.

The original Tian Tian is still at Maxwell Food Centre at the edge of Chinatown, but ever since good ol' Tony introduced Tian Tian to the world, they started selling enough chicken to warrant a branch on Joo Chiat Road. OK, Joo Chiat for most people is in the middle of nowhere, but it's air-conditioned. They accept reservations and even call you on your mobile to ask if you want to pre-order because they're running out soon.

It's just so nice, isn't it? These people are just. So. Nice.

We wanted to try both the classic white chicken and the dark-skinned roast version.

Tell me the truth. Is your mouth watering right now?

This is the set with the chicken rice and the bowl of soup.

Looking at this makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

We pretended to be good and ordered some vegetables. Garlicky, peppery beans sprinkled with dried microscopic shrimp.

Perfectly cooked, but unfortunately overshadowed by the star, the HCR.

What the hail! Let's order us some pork, too. Hainanese pork chop with that weird delicious gravy and the green peas that don't belong there, but are always there.

Tian Tian's second most famous dish, but still just a fried pork chop.

We washed it down with some drinks that are quintessentially Singapore. Oh, and the servers were wearing red berets.

Barley drink and lemongrass drink. Only in Singapore.

Verdict: The chicken was excellent. You can see and taste the years of craftsmanship that go into each bite. This is what this family does. The pride and goodwill are almost palpable. Eating this lovely chicken, you are glad that their restaurants are doing so well that it looks like you'll be able to keep eating this until your dying day... Owlright!

But, the rice. Oh man, it's a bit of a letdown. All of us at our table felt that it could have been better. It lacked a certain flavor, a punch that would make it memorable. It was just meh.

According to the rules, we have to continue the search. Each component of the HCR meal must be flawless. But for now, for their heavenly chicken and the addicting chili sauce made with fresh calamansi juice, Tian Tian is at the top of my "To-Beat" list.

The other dishes? I'm sure they were good, but I honestly can't remember. Tian Tian is for chicken. Don't be a pig.


  1. I saw a Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Ion's Food Opera

  2. Is it the same? Then we didn't have to go all the way to Joo Chiat? But they didn't mention it on their website... Next time we have to try Wee Nam Kee or Boon Tong Kee so that we can compare.