Thursday, 12 February 2015

What's Mandarin's Chatterbox Chicken Rice gotta do with Chicky Fun and Sergeant Chicken Rice?

I was invited to a tasting at Chicky Fun located at the Cantine food court in the newly opened Paya Lebar Square (next to Paya Lebar MRT station).

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LOL this was only part of what we tasted. My camera lens couldn't take it all in at 18mm focal length ;-p

But, today's tasting session was a lot more than a lot of chicken and rice.

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I was privileged to meet the legendary Sgt Kiang at the tasting. Sgt Kiang was one of the pioneers behind the acclaimed Chatterbox Chicken Rice in Mandarin Hotel, Singapore.

Like many Hainanese men of our Pioneer Generation, Sgt Kiang was a cook in the Army from the British Malaya days (before even the founding of Malaysia and Singapore). Sgt Kiang subsequently moved on to the American Club before working in Goodwood Park Hotel. From Goodwood Park Hotel, Sgt Kiang was drafted into Mandarin Hotel's opening team in 1971. Then Executive Chef Gunter Peter Gehrmann asked Sgt Kiang to come up with a signature local dish for Chatterbox cafe.

With Executive Chef Gunter, Sgt Kiang came up with his version of Chatterbox chicken rice which became an instant hit. Besides the more exquisite flavours derived from using premium quality ingredients, Sgt Kiang introduced two key innovations.

Sgt Kiang noticed that Westerners and Japanese prefer to eat chicken breast and dislike bones in their food. So, Sgt Kiang came up with deboned chicken - the first in Hainanese chicken rice. Sgt Kiang also came up with a method of cooking and cutting the chicken breast so that it would not be dry and fibrous.

In 1976, when then STPB (Singapore Tourist Promotion Board) opened Rasa Singapura to house all of Singapore's best hawkers under one roof; Sgt Kiang was invited to helm a stall there. Sgt Kiang remained with Rasa Singapura under the brand Sergeant Chicken until the food centre was demolished in the late 1980s. It was at Rasa Singapura that I had my regular fix of Sgt Kiang/ Mandarin Chatterbox chicken rice as I used to work nearby.

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Sgt Kiang then went into various ventures including his own Jiang Ji chicken rice stall and was a jet setter representing Singapore in many events overseas showcasing his Singapore style chicken rice. He was even guest chef in the Sultan's palace in Perak. Sgt Kiang still proudly keeps this time yellowed security pass issued by the Office of Raja Kecil Besar Perak - a cherished memento - in his wallet.

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Sgt Kiang is 77 years old now, still bright eyed and walks with a spring in his stride. lan Low joked(?) that Sgt Kiang looked younger than me. I didn't couldn't dispute that.

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Sgt Kiang is now a consultant with the Kopitiam group responsible for training the staff that operate it's 21 (and growing number of) chicken rice stalls under the Chicky Fun and Sergeant brands. Sgt Kiang also spends his day visiting the stalls to ensure that the chicken rice are prepared according to his specification. 

Sgt Kiang is a known disciplinarian. There is a legend that Sgt Kiang once threw away a whole pot of chili sauce made by his daughter because it didn't taste exactly the way he wanted it. I guess there is a good reason why they still call him Sergeant even after retiring from the Army for more than 40 years.

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I found myself eating (yes, eating) the ginger, chili and dark soy sauce neat; Even digging into Uncle Bob's share. The chili sauce had a nice lingering, layered kind of hot sting which was sharp but not overpowering. The same for the ginger sauce but in it's "gingery" way. 

The dark soy sauce had a flavour I had not tasted for a long time - something I lost touch with in today's chicken rice stalls. It had a syrupy texture. The flavour was savoury with sweet notes. Sgt Kiang said that they used a premium soy sauce and added a secret ingredient. I joked that it was opium (which Sgt Kiang neither confirmed nor denied ..... ).

Excellent though these sauces may be, I didn't use them when I ate the chicken or rice.  I like to eat my chicken meat neat to taste the fowl's natural flavours and use sauces only when the chicken is tasteless and desperately needed to be rescued. The sauces were not necessary today.

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Chicky Fun, Sergeant Chicken Rice, Mandarin Chatterbox Chicken Rice all share a common thread through Sgt Kiang.

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The poached chicken was chopped into quite small, bite size pieces. The meat was tender and juicy. The skin was smooth and soft. The moistness of the chicken was further enhanced by serving it generously bathed in a savoury sweet watery sauce. The sauce was mildly flavoured allowing me to taste the natural flavour of the chicken.

I liked it this way.

Sgt Kiang said that the chicken were imported live daily from Malaysia, slaughtered in Singapore and delivered to Kopitiam outlets chilled. All chicken are cooked at the respective stalls (not at a central kitchen). On site cooking is the best only way to have freshly cooked chicken but that means that Sgt Kiang has to be an one-man roving inspectorate to ensure that his high standards are kept up. Kudos to the Sgt Kiang and Kopitiam group for taking the great lengths to uphold the quality of chicken in it's outlets.

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Though the rice grains were average quality (there were some chipped grains), they were well prepared. The tender rice grains were discrete, separate easily and had a soft nutty texture. 粒粒 liap liap as they say in Hokkien colloquialism. Well coated with oil but it was not overly greasy. The aroma and flavour of garlic, ginger and chicken were infused in the grains. I like this rice.

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Love the look of this golden brown fried chicken.

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The fried chicken meat tasted slightly saltier and drier than my personal preference though I enjoyed the softly crispy, deeply golden skin. The natural chicken flavours were missing, masked by the saltiness.

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The fried Lemon Chicken was even saltier than the fried chicken and was greasy, especially after it had cooled down.

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I like this skinless poached chicken breast on a bed of 生面 san meen or fried egg noodles. Same tender naturally sweet white chicken flesh which is moist with juice. The very mildly savoury sweet sauce wet the crispy noodles, making them softer and slurpy smooth.

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The juicy crunchy blanched greens bathed with brown sauce was a good complement to the meat and rice.

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The taugeh (bean sprouts) was a little "skinny" and overdone. I like my taugeh "Ipoh" style - plump, sweet, crunchy and almost cooked.

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Chicken gizzard and liver. Liked the texture though it lacked flavour. 

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Let you in on a personal secret (warning: some of you may find this distasteful ;-p ).

I love chicken backsides ;-p

The bishop's pointy nose has a unique combination of fat, skin, meat, cartilage and soft bone; everything perfect together which some of us like. (Not for sale but Chicky Fun/ Sergeant will give them to you, if they have any ;-D  )

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Now, everyone can have premium quality chicken rice in a comfortable food court at affordable prices.

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The Chicky Fun stall I visited is located in Cantine food court in Paya Lebar Square, a shopping mall directly accessible from Paya Lebar MRT station (about 5 minutes' leisurely walk).

My thanks to Uncle Bob and Ian for setting up the tasting session.

Restaurant name: Chicky Fun (stall in Cantine food court)

Address: Paya Lebar Square, 60 Tanjung Katong Rd, Singapore (at Paya Lebar MRT station)
Maphttp://bit.ly/PayaSq
Hours: 10:00am to 10:00pm

Certified Halal by MUIS


Date visited: 12 Feb 2015


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9 comments:

  1. Only a foodie will know that the "bishop" is the best part of a chicken. :)

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  2. This is really a wonderful post.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    Replies
    1. I am travelling now. I have the business card somewhere at home. Will share the tel number once I get home.

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  5. That's great! Will wait for it! Thanks ya! :)

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  6. Hi! Manage to find their business card? Thanks :)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, please contact Mr. Ray Kiang at +65 9012-2038. Thank you.

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I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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