Tian Tian Chicken Rice, Maxwell Market

After meeting the wondrously wonderful team behind Esquire, I walked down to Maxwell Market to have myself a rather late lunch. For many Singaporeans, Tian Tian Chicken Rice really needs no introduction. Despite the hogwash that Boon Tong Kee ever so fondly churns, Tian Tian actually receives far more overseas acclaim. From Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer magazine to Anthony Bourdain’s personal endorsement, there are loads of hype.

Being the homophile that I am, with an inclination to the more sapphic of nocturnal activities, I’ve had more than my fair share of visits to the historic marketplace. Curiously enough, it has never occurred to my culinary senses to actually try the famed chicken rice store here. Perhaps, I’ve always viewed the allium-heavy dish to be unsuitable, especially since there’s a lot of stealth and hunting involved in the eventide. Or perhaps I was just aporetic to the raves about such a common dish. After all, it’s just chicken rice. There may be a million ways to cook it, but it sure tastes more or less the same, at least that’s what I thought.

I was blown away, at first.

The rice is by leaps and bounds, a standout. Instead of the typically heavy, but rather crude, garlic-infused grain that I’m familiar with, there’s a smoothness and buttery flavor that helps neutralizes the acidity and richness of the garlic – unobtrusive, understated and a joy to chow down. The chicken, served chilled, adds a refreshing but complementary contrast that just completes the symphony. Low points. The chili sauce is far too spicy – it is sooo acidic, and it really thrusts the pungent level back up so far, that it undid all the rights they had scored with the rice. I thought Tian Tian had learned that subtlety was the name of the game, so to see them slide back down with the chili sauce was disheartening. In addition, the spare parts were troll. There’s just no other way to put it – overcooked and tasteless, it was beyond redemption. Having said that, I’d still come back, except I’ll knock off on the chili sauce and spare parts, and it’d be perfect. You know, there are some places where you shouldn’t experiment when it comes to food – Tian Tian’s one of them. Just go original.

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