Swee Kee 瑞记 Hainanese chicken rice ruled the chicken rice world in Singapore for two generations from 1949 before closing in Feb 1997. The plan originally was to renovate and expand the old shop in Middle Road, Singapore which had become an icon for locals and tourists alike. Meanwhile, the family and workers returned to Senai in Johor where they came from. In Jun 1997, the relatives set up New Swee Kee 新瑞记 with the blessing of the founder Mr. Po 莫瑞安 who (for unknown reasons) did not proceed with the plans to expand Swee Kee in Singapore.
I have (unfortunately) never tried the original Swee Kee in Singapore but the worker who had been with the old shop told me some interesting snippets about it. He said that every day the founding boss 莫瑞安 would personally select the live chicken one by one at the market, picking only the best ones. The chicken were then slaughtered at the old shop ensuring that the meat was super fresh. The old shop also used the best imported Thai fragrant rice.
Other than these two (critical) aspects, New Swee Kee followed the traditions of the old shop as the owner (who is a nephew of the founder) and some of the workers are from the old shop. This is the current boss, the younger Mr. Po 莫泽安's son-in-law who will help take Swee Kee into the third generation.
New Swee Kee has done rather well - it was named one of the Top Ten chicken rice shops in Malaysia by Guang Ming Daily 光明日報 in 2007. New Swee Kee now occupies two shop lots in Senai. On the wall are several pictures of visits by celebrities and familiar dignitaries.
Now, Swee Kee is popular among the workers from the nearby Senai industrial park and golfers from the nearby Palm Golf Resort. Travellers using Senai airport also drop by.
The chicken are laid out in the old Hainanese way in traditional large enamelled pans. Those in the foreground are normal American broiler chicken 肉鸡 and those in the background are kampung chicken.
We had half of a normal farm chicken 肉鸡. The chicken meat was tender with a firm, springy chewy bite (not soft). The meat had a nice subtle chicken flavour and aroma.
The chicken was served without sauce as in the old Hainanese way. Some people may find this unappealing but neat is the only way to be able to taste the chicken's natural flavours. Unfortunately, American broiler is a pretty much flavourless breed. (Kampung chicken would be more suitable for this style of Hainanese poached chicken but it comes at a premium price.)
The rice was fragrant, fluffy, flavoured with chicken oil but was not overly greasy.
The clear chicken soup that comes with the order was aromatic and tasty. The umami flavour come from slow boiling these chicken heads and necks.
Swee Kee's ginger sauce is outstanding. It has the aroma and taste of ginger blended with savouriness from chicken oil.
The sourish chili sauce was the watery, drippy kind - not as good. My preference is for my chili sauce to be like a paste.
We liked this fried taugeh (bean sprout) side dish. The fresh taugeh was stir fried with bits of salted fish and lard crackles.
Our total bill for half a normal American broiler chicken, taugeh and two herbal drinks came to RM25.
Swee Kee chicken rice is certainly one of the better chicken rice shops in Johor. But, it's dressing sauce free, old style may not be appealing to people accustomed to chicken served bathed in sesame oil, "oyster" sauce or soy sauce.
I will eat at Swee Kee again, if I am nearby.
Swee Kee's chicken rice is quite similar to Singapore's Yet Con chicken rice.
Restaurant name: Swee Kee 瑞记海南鸡饭
Address: 98, Jalan Bintang, Taman Bintang, Senai, Johor
Hours: 9:00am to 7:00pm (close at 3:00pm on Mondays)
Date visited: 29 Apr 2012
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