'I’ll be here waiting for you': A love letter to chicken rice in light of M'sia chicken export ban

One writer's ode to her favourite Singaporean food.

Jane Zhang | June 02, 2022, 11:44 AM

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Dear Chicken Rice,

I have loved you ever since the first bite.

When I first came to Singapore eight years ago, you quickly established your hold on my heart (and taste buds) and took the position of my All-Time Favourite Food In Singapore.

There's just something about the combination of the savoury, fragrant rice and tender, flavourful chicken, mixed in with just the right amount of chilli and dark soya sauce; it's the perfect culinary concoction.

Photo by Jane Zhang.

And of course, the soup. Who can forget the soup? Taking small sips between bites of chicken rice helps cleanse the palate, and then gulping down the remainder after the last bite is the perfect ending to a meal.

You’ll be pleased to know that you have managed to maintain your position at the top of my local food charts even after all these years.

Every hawker centre trip, every kopitiam visit, I would immediately find myself scanning the stalls for signs of you, my beloved Chicken Rice.

Of course, I would sometimes need to expand my horizons and see what else is on the market, but in the end, my heart always comes back to you.

I never thought that one day, something would come between us, but unfortunately, sometimes love isn’t enough to surmount all the challenges life flings our way.

Jun. 1 ban

Yesterday was the first day of Malaysia’s ban on chicken exports. This means that Singapore will be cut off from one-third of its poultry supply.

Chicken rice prices are forecast to increase and some chicken rice stalls are even reportedly planning on temporarily closing.

In the week leading up to the ban implementation, the anticipation of the limited stock even resulted in long queues of others who share my deep love for chicken rice.

And while I know that this isn’t goodbye (it’s just see you later), I still feel a deep sadness in my heart knowing that we’ll be separated for the foreseeable future.

My last chicken rice for a while?

So on May 31, the day before the ban took place, I knew I had to have one last taste — I had to fight for our love.

I dragged a couple of colleagues with me and headed down to San Xi Hainanese Chicken Rice at Bendemeer Market and Food Centre.

I was a bit worried that there would be a long queue, but was relieved to see that it wasn’t out of control.

The queue wound around the corner but wasn't too long. Photo by Jane Zhang.

While it was definitely longer than usual, it moved quickly and very soon, I was able to sit down and enjoy my plate of chicken rice — steamed chicken with roasted pork and gizzard (usually, I prefer liver, but they ran out) — along with a heaping bowl of their delicious soup.

Chicken rice and sugarcane juice: my ideal meal. Photo by Jane Zhang.

Photo by Jane Zhang.

Photo by Jane Zhang.

As I sat there spooning mouthful after mouthful of a meal I will soon find much harder to get my hands on, I reminisced on our times together — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You've seen me through so much of my life in Singapore

You've been a constant throughout my time in Singapore. With each milestone came a new chicken rice stall to attach myself obsessively to.

As a student living near Clementi, Ji Tou Chicken Rice at Clementi 448 Market and Food Centre quickly became my go-to when grabbing dinner before heading home.

When I started an internship in May 2016, I stumbled upon a chicken rice stall at a Geylang kopitiam near my office. It was the first time I ever had chicken rice with achar rather than raw cucumbers, and I remember being blown away by the explosion of flavours in my mouth.

After moving to Boon Keng in 2020, I got acquainted with the neighbourhood and soon discovered what has become one of my all-time favourite chicken rice stalls, San Xi Hainanese Chicken Rice located at Bendemeer Market and Food Centre.

I would go there several times a week and order the exact same thing each time: steamed chicken with roasted pork, add liver, with a heaping bowl of hearty soup on the side.

The chicken rice and meat are great, but what really captured my heart was their soup.

It isn't the thin, MSG-flavoured clear yet oily broth that is the norm at most chicken rice stalls. No, this soup is always laden with big chunks of carrots, white radish, corn, and best of all, lots of chicken claws.

You've truly been with me through so many things.

Photo by Jane Zhang.

From the many times when I’ve been ravenously hungry and you’ve hit the spot perfectly, to the rare meals when I was left discontented with overly salty soup, to dreaming up my ideal chicken rice combination (which I have yet to find): steamed chicken plus roasted pork plus liver plus achar, served with hearty soup.

I'll be waiting for your return

While my heart aches at the fact that the current situation means we may be apart for a while, I will keep my chin up.

Not having my favourite food temporarily is tough, but it's a minor setback compared to the difficulty that others in Singapore — particularly hawkers who depend heavily on fresh chicken from across the Causeway as their main source of income — face.

Having just tided over the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the F&B industry, this is another unfortunate and extremely difficult setback.

But if I've learned anything about Singapore in my time here, it's that Singaporeans love their food and will throw their full support behind hard-working hawkers when they need help.

Personally, I also find that there's a silver lining to this: an opportunity to expand my horizons and better acquaint myself with other Singaporean delicacies. I've always had a soft spot for laksa; char kway teow is always a good option too.

But rest assured, I will always be thinking of you, Chicken Rice.

And just know that, when you return again, I — and many others in Singapore — will be here waiting for you.

With much love,

An Avid Chicken Rice Lover.

Photo by Jane Zhang.

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Top photo by Jane Zhang.