One of them, generically named "Hainan Chicken Rice Ball" is a stall inside Shing Boon Hwa kopitiam. The old school coffee shop is located right at the edge of Singapore's financial district and across the road from Sim Lim Tower.
Stepping into the sleepy old coffee shop on a hot mid afternoon wasn't all that inspiring. The air was heavy with stifling humidity, clouded with road dust and smog from Indonesia. The constant rumble of heavy traffic was punctuated with sporadic sputter of pneumatic hammers from the subway construction work nearby.
A half chicken dangled forlornly in the window. Worried that the stall was closed for the day, I quickly asked the boss Mr Paul Ba if his stall was still opened. I was relieved when he replied in the affirmative.
Paul's mum started this stall in 1947 at Sungai Road's infamous Thieves Market (where people rushed to retrieve their stolen bicycles, clothes and shoes for a small ransom before it is sold to another person for a steal). Paul took over from his mum and has been running this stall for 33 years already, doing many things the old way.
I ordered a basic SGD4 chicken rice ball set.
The set came with two chicken rice balls, the size of tennis balls. The rice was aromatic with garlic and very mild chicken smell. It was very lightly greased, even slightly dry. The rice ball though packed tightly together crumbled easily into cakey lumps and separate grains when we bite into it.
Personally, I like my chicken rice balls to be starchy flavour grenades leaking grease. The rice grains soften and stuck together like a lumpy sticky mushy ball of paste (the way I remembered them when my dad brought them home when I was a child).
Paul still uses these 30 year old pots to make his chicken rice. He insists on cooking manually (with gas) instead of using an automatic electric rice cooker as rice cooked the old way tastes better.
The rice is kept warm in a tub and Paul hand presses the rice into balls when there is an order.
I asked Paul why he offers chicken rice ball when most stalls serve rice on a plate. He replied that that was the way his mum always sold chicken rice and so he continued in the same way in her honour.
Chicken rice balls are traditionally made for easy packing during travelling or treks to the hilly cemeteries during Ching Ming (Chinese grave sweeping festival). Chicken rice balls are traditionally eaten with hands without utensils - very handy and practical for travelling. Nowadays, chicken rice balls are served at food stalls more as a novel variation to the usual rice served on a plate or in a bowl.
The chicken served was breast meat, skinless and boneless painted with a splash of dark soy sauce.
I prefer my chicken served with skin and bone in, but I did not specify during ordering as I wanted to have the same food as everybody.
The breast meat turned out to be moist and tender, with a slight chicken flavour which I like. Thankfully that dark soy sauce was gentle in flavour and didn't take anything away from the chicken. (If you like your chicken skinless and boneless, this is for you.)
Paul uses only large birds of at least 2.25 kilo each. (Several Hainanese chicken rice stall owners told me the same thing.)
Paul does not cook his chicken in bulk but in small numbers or even one by one. Paul cooks chicken throughout the day depending on demand which he judges using his 33 years of experience. This way, his chicken are always freshly cooked and we do not see a parade of cooked chicken hanging on display in the window waiting for customers.
Next time, I shall go for Paul's half bird with skin and bone in which he sells for SGD16.
While more and more chicken rice stalls in Singapore stop serving soup with their chicken rice, Paul still serves a bowl of tasty herbal broth. Kudos to Paul :-D
I didn't expect much from this pale looking, watery chili dip in an orange colour plastic dish.
But, once it touched my taste buds, I sat up and paid attention. The anaemic looking sauce had a sharp sting, a refreshing sourish taste and subtle savoury notes. It also had a layered kind of spiciness - I like it very much.
Paul uses several types of chilis in his chili sauce for layers of spiciness. These are chili padi - little fire crackers for their sharp biting sting.
Then, there are these more pulpy chili peppers for bulk and a gentler tingling bite.
Ginger, freshly squeezed lime and sesame oil are blended into the chili sauce - I like this well balanced sauce.
Paul also serves tender braised pork belly which is popular with his regulars. The pork belly are braised in herbs, dark soy sauce and chicken stock according to his mum's recipe.
We can order a combo plate of chicken, braised pork belly and two chicken rice balls for SGD4.50.
If you like to try chicken rice balls for a change, good poached chicken and braised pork belly, do check out Hainan Chicken Rice Ball stall.
Also recommended for you - my encounter with chicken rice balls in Muar <- click
Restaurant name: Hainan Chicken Rice Ball 海南鸡饭粒
Address: Boon Hwa Food Center, 43 Jalan Besar (junction with Dickson Road), Singapore
GPS: 1.304716, 103.854785
Hours: 8:30am to 9:30pm (closed on alternate Weds)
Date visited: 23 Oct 2015
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