Chicken Rice Finally Gets Its First Michelin Star!
Redefining hawker fare and street food – Chan Hon Meng’s way!
Chicken rice is one of the most popular Asian dishes within this region, in particular Malaysia and Singapore. We have all tasted and savoured chicken rice at some point throughout our lives. The aromatic rice served with succulent braised chicken is simply irresistible period. For most Malaysians, it is considered among our top three national dishes, alongside nasi lemak and roti canai. Though some may argue chicken rice is a Singaporean dish, others might beg to differ. For the sake of historical accuracy and political correctness, chicken rice, or Hainanese Chicken Rice to be precise, actually has its birthplace of origin in Hainan Island, Taiwan. We have only begun to commercialize and brand the dish as our own during the last decade. The popularity of chicken rice has recently been given new meaning with the recognition of a single Michelin star awarded to the principal owner/operator of ‘Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle’ – Mr. Chan Hon Meng, who hails from Ipoh, Perak. Kudos to him, so proud to be Malaysian!
Business is booming within the hustle & bustle of commercial business districts and a plethora of hawker stalls around Toa Payoh, especially during lunch-time. Food traders and stall operators have long witnessed brisk business all this while, all thanks in part to the popularity of Singapore’s number one undisputed chicken rice shop. It is the brainchild of Chan Hong Meng, who started his humble chicken rice and noodle business as a family tradition. Like any other family enterprises, Mr. Chan inherited his business acumen and cooking skills from his late father who emigrated from mainland China as a young peasant. During the late nineties, Chan journeyed to Hong Kong to learn the ropes about cooking up the perfect storm from a local culinary guru and master chef. Over the years, he perfected his signature braised chicken dish which was inspired by his former mentor. The rest as they say is history. A labour of love as well as an unwavering passion for cooking is often what kept him going till this day in the constant drudgery and ever-competitive business of HK-style soya sauce chicken rice and noodle cuisine.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle became one of the first ever street food stalls worldwide to be awarded an eminent star by The Michelin Guide, a prestigious French-based gastronomical society. Singapore is also among the first Southeast Asian country and the fourth nation in Asia to be rated or gauged by Michelin. Over a hundred open-air hawker centres and six thousands other stalls were adjudged during the week-long process. A Michelin Star specifically takes into consideration cuisine quality and gastronomy excellence per se; it does not judge or evaluate service hospitality, restaurant ambience or dining experience.
Chan Hon Meng, the proprietor of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, was deeply honoured to have received top recognition in the F&B (i.e. food and beverage) industry in the Michelin Singapore hawkers’ category. Coming from a poor background, he would duly cook up a storm for his regular clientele any day. Chan truly wishes his stall’s success would motivate and encourage more youths to participate in the hawker trade. He envisioned expanding his business by opening more outlets elsewhere, and even franchising his business overseas. The majority of renowned eateries and diners from around the world had humble beginnings too. Many started off as standalone stalls and snack kiosks prior to entering the big league. Should Chan’s braised chicken business go international, it would be the first hawker chain as well as a culinary powerhouse in the making!
Tucked away within the sprawling Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore’s largest hawker centre, is the ideal setting for the prominent Michelin-starred stall with its golden roast chickens hanging behind the counter-top. The juicy golden braised and fragrant roast chickens are truly a sight for sore eyes indeed – luring shoppers and onlookers to stop by to sample the iconic dishes themselves. Despite being awarded the prestigious star by Michelin, there have been no drastic or dramatic changes to its menu pricing. Meals are often served almost two hundred times daily, with prices averaging S$2.50 per plate. Purchasing a meal at this stall also presents an uphill task and a unique challenge. Customers sometimes wait for hours before relishing their meals. The food court environment or ambience is generally hot and humid; having air-conditioning would be welcoming indeed. There are also no immediate plans just yet to open new stalls in the future.
He was only one of two street hawkers to have the award bestowed upon them when Michelin launched its Singapore dining guide, i.e. Michelin Guide Singapore. The other winning chef is none other than Tang Chay Seng and his ‘Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle’, which churns out bowls of delicious and delectable minced-meat noodles. It is often a test of endurance and patience for both customers and workers alike. The celebrated chef himself has no time to bask in his new-found glory. In fact, his daily routine encompasses some seventeen hours toiling away in his tiny little kitchen – cleaning, cutting, dressing, roasting, as well as cooking up and serving his famous and fabulous braised chickens. An unbridled passion is what ultimately drives his work ethics, as well as an uncompromising principle in delivering the absolute best to his loyal patrons and the general public. – HFM