Let’s say there is one chicken rice shop for every 1,000 people living in Singapore. Given a population of about 5.6 million, there should be around 5,600 places selling chicken rice. And among all these places, Sinn Ji Hainanese Chicken Rice makes the best one in Singapore.
Better than Tian Tian, better than Boon Tong Kee, better than Ming Kee, better than Wee Nam Kee, better than Pow Sing, better than Yishun 925 and *gasp* better than Chatterbox.
As you can tell, I’ve eaten quite a lot of chicken rice.
It’s not difficult to find a decent plate of chicken rice, and most of the famous stalls and restaurants serve very good versions of our national dish. They each have their respective die-hard fans who keep going back time-after-time.
For me, whenever I crave for chicken rice, there is only one clear choice.
There are only a few components to the dish, which makes it easy to make but difficult to do well. Sometimes you have juicy chicken but dry and flavourless rice, other times you have fluffy and fragrant rice but bland and diluted chilli sauce, and most times you don’t get ginger to accompany the chicken.
But when you do everything right, you end up with the best chicken rice in Singapore.
Sinn Ji is located in Novena, just across the road from Novena Church and along the newly-built Novena Regency stretch of shops. The last time we ate there was before the not-lockdown started, and we ordered a set for two which came with quarter chicken, Thai-style tofu, HK kailan and two plates of rice.
The dumpling soup was ordered separately, and The Wife added a glass of hot chrysanthemum tea.
The best part of the meal, at least to me, was the chilli sauce. It was thick, spicy and sharp, exactly how I like it. Naturally, I had seconds, which was efficiently refilled by the staff using a squeeze bottle.
I’m not the only fan, because one time, a man at the next table asked them to leave the bottle, and he doused his rice with the chilli. And when he ordered an extra plate of rice, he did it again. Now that’s hardcore, even for a chilli fan like me.
After the meal, and as we were paying, the lady at the cashier shared with us how they taste tested their chilli so much during formulation that she developed a sore throat the next day.
They take things seriously, and it shows in the quality and flavour of the food they serve.
I was craving chicken rice again earlier this week, and was so happy to find that Sinn Ji does free island-wide delivery for orders above $30.
We ordered our usual quarter roast chicken with two rice, and added the curry fish head, which was not a dish that we’d seen on their usual menu before.
Ordering was done using Whatsapp and payment was made using PayNow to the company UEN number that they provided in their Whatsapp reply. The whole process was quick and efficient.
To be honest, I was managing my expectations somewhat, given that the delivery process would inevitably reduce the quality of the food. However, after re-hydrating the chicken with the juices at the bottom of the delivery box, it turned out to be almost as juicy as I remembered. The flavour of everything was the same as before, including the ginger in sesame oil.
But what was truly surprising was the fish head curry. It came in a huge plastic tub and was filled with a large red snapper fish head swimming in tau kee, tau pok, lady’s fingers and long beans. When it arrived, it was so hot that I had difficulty opening the cover.
The fish was firm and fresh, and the vegetables were crisp and crunchy. The curry itself was thick and lemak, not the watered-down type that you sometimes get at zichar stalls. But the highlight was definitely the generous pieces of tau kee that soaked up all the curry and released its rich flavour with every bite.
How can a chicken rice shop cook such a delicious fish head curry?
The portion was too much for the two of us to finish and we kept leftovers to go with the next day’s lunch.
The pride that Sinn Ji takes in cooking their food showed again today, when they messaged us to ask for feedback on their fish head curry.
The Wife wanted to order it for her dad, who is a huge curry fan but doesn’t eat fish, and asked if they made a version using chicken instead. They were concerned and peppered her with questions:
“Oh, why doesn’t he take fish? It is because of the smell? Our fish are wild-caught and fresh, and he doesn’t have to worry about the smell.”
The Wife re-assured them that the fish was indeed fresh tasting without any smell, from our own first-hand experience, and that her dad just didn’t eat anything with fish in it. Undaunted, she asked if they made a vegetarian version of their curry.
“We don’t have a vegetarian version. Vegetarian, chicken and fish curries all use different spice bases.”
It would have been easy to simply agree to sell the curry without adding in the fish head, but they stuck to their principles in order not to compromise on taste.
So, unfortunately, The Father-In-Law won’t get to try their curry until they come up with a vegetarian or chicken version.
But sorry, Sinn Ji, the next time we order from you (and it will be soon), we’re going to order both your fish head curry and poached chicken. And then we’re totally going to do a pen-pineapple-apple-pen and make our own version of uhh! chicken curry.