Out of the 29 Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore, two are awarded to hawkers: Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee and Hong Kong Soya Chicken at Chinatown Food Complex at Smith Street. Although everyone is glad that the hawkers have gained recognition for their hard work, and that the French guide has acknowledged our street food culture, the hawkers being awarded have caused some controversy, because the Michelin Guide has violated some of its cardinal rules.
The Guide gives 1, 2, or 3 stars based on service, decor, ambience, quality of ingredients, etc. Hawker centres have no decor and ambience–at peak hours, when cleaners can’t handle the crowd, hawker centres can get dirty–and there is definitely no tableside service. It is a fact that the quality of ingredients differs at hawker centres and at restaurants.
The restaurant should also serve at least 3 main dishes so that inspectors can gauge the skills of the chefs. Well, I guess Tai Hwa has more than 3 dishes: bak chor mee soup, bak chor mee mee pok, bak chor mee mai hiam, bak chor mee more vinegar…
Some people guess that the Michelin Guide has decided to award hawkers because guides should have a controversy for people to engage in watercooler conversations.
Some people have commented that this is the first time ever that the Michelin Guide is sponsored; Singapore Tourism Board has sponsored it. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch in the world. When you take someone’s money, you’re somebody’s bitch. We know that in every Singapore tourism ad, STB always features our hawker food as part of our heritage. Draw your own conclusions.
Some people also have expressed their incredulity: does that mean a plate of $2 chicken rice is similar to the $500 experience at Waku Ghin, since they have received a star each?
To all the detractors, I say: Why so serious? It’s all a game. Everything is a game. You live, you eat, you shit, you die. The galaxy goes on a gazillion more years.
Since I’ve already eaten at 23 out of the 29 Michelin-starred restaurants–this was before the stars were awarded–I might as well complete the last 6 restaurants. And Hong Kong Soya Chicken is one of the 6.
The queue was already long before the star: about 45 minutes to an hour. But after the star, we heard it is now about 2.5 hours. (We paid someone to queue for and deliver the food to us, so we didn’t know how long. I apologize for being so first world.)
Mr Chan Hon Meng, the owner, insists on selling 150 chickens a day. [Sorry, we bought 1 chicken ($14) that day. 149 left for y’all.] If he cooks more chickens, he is afraid that the standard may drop. The cheapest item, soya chicken rice, at $2 may be the cheapest Michelin meal in the world.
Let me make this disclaimer first: I hate soya chicken in general. It is a slimy, revolting strip of meat that cannot decide if it wants to be Hainanese poached chicken or roasted chicken, cannot decide if it wants to be sweet or savory. I eat it because the Ex used to buy it from the shophouse at Upper Cross Street, and like the nice girls at NUS orientation camps who were forced into playing sex games, I was too polite to say no. I protested several times, don’t buy soya chicken for me, I told you so many times I feel like vomiting every time I eat it, but the Ex still bought and I forced myself to swallow.
To my surprise, Hong Kong Soya Chicken is f***ing awesome. The skin is sweet and gelatinous, not disgustingly and slimy, and the meat, even the breast, was tender like baby’s ass. A piece just glides deep down the throat.
In fact, my family members and I agreed that everything was fantastic. The oyster-sauced vegetables ($4) are a bit too soft, lacking the crunch, but in that garlicky sauce, it is umami. I hate vegetables but this was one of the few times that I snatched for it.
The char siew is the golden standard, with a strip of fat running through it. It’s bold and not afraid to grilled till there are charred burnt ends. It’s very sweet, almost too sweet, but rescued by the bitter aftertaste of the char. We are however concerned with the anyhow hantum chopping skills. If it’s sliced better, it would be tenderer.
Between the rice or noodles, I suggest going for the rice. The rice provides a nice contrast with the food, but the noodles appear to be an overkill. The noodles belong to the generic type, and to mask the alkaline taste, they add a very sweet and salty sauce, like wanton mee sauce. The excellent chilli does take the edge off, but as a whole, the meat with noodles are too saucy for me to handle.
Although the stall doesn’t adhere to the original, pre-sponsored Michelin criteria, it deserves the star completely, unequivocally, indubitably. I actually do find the list of Michelin-starred restaurants in Singapore pretty good–they are not the best restaurants in Singapore but they are good restaurants–and Hong Kong Soya Chicken adds a diversity to the list.
We paid $32 for our family of 5, and had some leftovers enough to feed another 3 persons for dinner. This is a damn satisfying meal.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle 香港油雞飯麵
Blk 335, Smith Street #02-126, Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore 050335
M-F 10.30am-till sold-out, closed W
Weekend & PH 8.30am-till sold-out
Overall rating: 4.875/5
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.