Yes, I queued for over 3 hours in Singapore to buy this $2 chicken rice.. and it was worth it.
It’s almost 1pm in Singapore, and I’m in a crowded hawker center, filled with hundreds of vendors touting their wares and foodstuffs. I’m in the Chinatown district, just off Smith street, and I’ve been waiting for over two hours already for one of the least expensive lunches in Singapore: Hong Kong Soya Chicken Rice from Liao Fan, a vendor who has recently been recognized by the esteemed Michelin Guide.
This did not come without controversy, however. Many seasoned chefs protested at the idea that a street vendor in a dirty, sweaty hawker center without proper seating or wait staff could be afforded the coveted Michelin star.
Many of my friends have definitely commented that I was deranged, for waiting three hours in the blistering heat for a $2 plate of chicken and rice. Chinese friends who knew the dish, typically the least expensive item in a roasted meat shop in Hong Kong, alongside duck, pork belly, and ribs, had also passed on the opportunity. No matter where you come from, this does not seem like the typical fare you would expect to see in the Michelin guide, normally reserved for pricy full-service fine dining establishments, with. wait staff as refined as the high-end ingredients they serve. With Wagyu beef, foie gras, and caviar.
However, anyone who have sampled this simple dish will instantly understand its appeal. The Soya Chicken comes on a plate of rice, and is drizzled with a sweet and savory sauce. It is cooked perfectly, even if you‘re used to roast chicken or duck.
As we make it around the corner, we finally catch sight of the roast chicken and pork belly hanging in the window of the tiny stall. A couple sits down nearby, allowing us to finally see the dish we are about to order. The aroma from the stall drifts by, pushed our way by the large industrial fans that cool the area. It is not air conditioned, and it is now 90f outside.
They should disallow anyone from directly consuming the product nearby. Although not starving in the literal sense, three hours of anticipation messes with your head.
At last, we appear to be nearing the front of the line, when an elderly woman orders twenty portions, the limit imposed by the shop’s owner. The line is delayed by 18 minutes.
This isn’t the first large order. The couple behind me angrily claim she must be selling it nearby, perhaps at dramatically inflated prices. Another supposes this should be expected. Perhaps the elderly woman is spending the morning in the unbearable heat to bring her family a nice lunch for a special occasion. One can only speculate, but I remain optimistic. Other people have queued on my behalf plenty of times before.
After only an hour and a half of waiting, the couple behind me exits the queue.
Many stare at their mobiles. Several are playing Pokémon GO, including the young man ahead of me, and an elderly Chinese man just ahead of him. Someone has dropped a lure, and I notice several more excited game players reach for their mobiles. But without the ability to walk around, checking in and catching Pokémon becomes a chore.
A woman angrily pushes to the front of the queue. I’m not sure what excuse she used, or how she manages it, but they appear to be serving her. There is a young man minding the queue, weeding-out potential queue hoppers, but she has somehow pushed through his defenses.
I somehow do not mind. I am once again near a large fan, and nearing the front of the queue. Perhaps only ten minutes longer.
We finally approach the very front of the queue, and an attendant ushers us forward. My friend jokes about leaving the queue. “We have things to do, places to see”. We had been joking about leaving the queue for hours, constantly counting the number of people ahead of us, predicting how long it would take in total.
The chicken is delicate, tender, and flavorful, as is the skin. It falls to pieces in your mouth. It comes with a rich Soya sauce, and a sweet chili sauce, as well as a small portion of beans.
The pork ribs are roasted and tender, coated with sauce, char siew style. Moist in the center, and never dry. However, for me, the best part is the rice. Soya sauce and meat juices flavor it incredibly well, and perfectly compliment the meat.
As with all roasted meats, it is bone-in for maximum flavor, and does not come with drinks or napkins. You will need to bring your own.
If you’re looking to indulge yourself, be sure to show up promptly, if you wish to be served. By the time they opened at 10:30am, a lengthy queue had already formed. I am told the first in queue arrived at 6am, perhaps even before the staff themselves!
The stand is located in the Smith Street Food Centre, in the Chinatown Complex on Smith Street, on the second floor. It is located somewhat in the center of the floor, with the queue pushing out the southern edge of the building. Stall #02–126 (some guides list it incorrectly as 166).
It is near the Chinatown MRT stop (DT Line, NE Line), and opens all days except Wednesday between 10:30 and 8pm. They may not open promptly at 10:30.
Bring a friend! There are restrooms and drink stalls nearby, but it will be difficult to exit the queue if you go alone.
Don’t let the difficulty of procuring this dish scare you away. The anticipation only makes it better.