Lunch In Singapore: Chicken Rice

I realize this is not news. If you've seen Bourdain in Singapore or read any Southeast Asian food blog ever, you know that chicken rice is among the greatest global street foods ever whipped up, and Tian Tian at Singapore's famed Maxwell Hawker Center is most certainly where it's at. I went in a skeptic, and came out an evangelist. My life will never be the same.

Feeling hot and languid from the unbearable temperature and pounding summer rain (not the greatest weather for heavy eating), I visibly perked up with my first bite. Ginger. Whoah, ginger time. Gingery, awesome, spicy chicken rice time.

Chicken rice is a rare culinary anomaly no matter how you approach it. It's tingly-gingery, yet mild. Rich, yet light. It's poultry cooked for a long time that retains its moisture and exhibits not the tinest bit of gumminess. It's simple and inexplicably complex, but I'll try to explain it anyway. I will not, however, attempt to recreate it. Faith as you may have in my test kitchen recipes, I'd be a damn fool to even try tackling this bird. I'd try to make it a thousand times and hate on myself with every failure.

The perfectly salty chicken comes slightly chilled over room temperature rice that's been cooked in gingery broth. It's served with a fiery, vinegary orange-red sambal thin enough to dip into and not so hot you'd blast your palate into oblivion. The plate is splashed on the side with dark soy sauce and topped with julienned cucumbers and, I guess. I thought I knew a lot about food and cooking. I don't know what the secret ingredient in this chicken rice is, so I'm going to have to defer to love. The line was a half-hour long, there's no other explanation. Maybe sorcery.

Hangover? Cold? Breakup? Chicken rice. Broke til your next paycheck? Chicken rice is $3. Bourdain stalker? He really does love this stuff, you can't fake an O-face like that — plus Tian Tian's window sports a big 'ol photo of the street food bandit himself. Are you one of those sad, lost souls who only eats chicken and rice? Well do I have the perfect ethnic food for you!

My fellow travelers commented encouragingly on my speed and gusto as I took down the platter in record time and finished the leftovers of another. This is the stuff of speed and gusto. If you're going to summon speed and/or gusto, chicken rice is among the worthiest of targets. I'll just come back next time the craving strikes. 20 hours on a plane is 100% worth it.

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