Saturday, February 4, 2012

1MB Travels: Singapore: Boon Tong Kee

And on this episode of 1MB Travels...

Goes the voiceover in my head of my imaginary show of a life where I get to travel and eat and write for a living...

So far from reality...but a girl can dream, can't she? Stretching memories of trips that are few and far in between, keeps the dream alive.

So here goes another episode...I mean, post.  On our holiday trip to Singapore, at the recommendation of my food-lovin' uncle, and endorsement of many a real-life TV star from Hong Kong - we found ourselves at Boon Tong Kee - famous for their take on the signature Singaporean dish, the simply named Chicken Rice.  A minimum one hour wait was to be expected - and we spent the time wandering to a nearby hawker center and checking out chefs at work in the display kitchen, where their handiwork - cold, skin-on chickens - are featured on racks like a proud designer would set his haute coutoure pieces before the masterpieces are sent out on the runway.
At this particular location, you can choose to sit inside, in the air conditioned, more upscale space, or outdoors at more casual tables set up on the sidewalk.  It was late December, but temperatures were in the 80s in Singapore - it was a bit warm to sit outside, but we were charmed by the sparkling lights and muted night-time traffic and cricket sounds in the distance.  Plus it was a shorter wait.  So semi al fresco it was. 
There was a rustic / nostalgic charm to the outside space - including the specials 'board' made up of individual pink parchment pieces handwritten in traditional Chinese calligraphy. 
As we sat we were given an amuse bouche of pidan (aka thousand year old egg or preserved duck egg) topped with ginger and chilis.  
I loved the gorgeous 'snowflake' crystallization patterns - a bit ironic that 'thousand year old' eggs are supposed to be served 'fresh' - but my mom thought it had been sitting out for a while (the preserved yolk looked dry when it should be creamy) so best not to risk eating them.  I love pidan though so was only placated after the promise to order another dish that includes this ingredient.
But first things first - we were excited to try what we came for (cue fanfare): Chicken Rice ("Signature Boiled Chicken" on menu)!  BTK serves this national treasure of a dish in four sizes at SG $5 / $10/ $15/ $30 (~US $4 / $8 / $12/ $24).  We got the SG$15 sized plate and rice for SG $0.50 each.  Regular readers know I don't like chicken unless it's fried or slow cooked in stew beyond all recognition.  Chinese preparations of chicken, served cold, is another exception. 

Sometimes the simplest dishes require the most skill, and that is the case here - there are no more than 3-4 ingredients used to boil the chicken and cook the rice, but it is INSANELY good. The chicken was smooth, tender, juicy and flavorful.  And the juices and oils of the chicken along with flavors of ginger and scallion are used to cook the rice, which means the fragrance is infused into every molecule of rice.  It was so intoxicatingly flavorful, without any trace of grease or 'debris', obviously cooked for a long time to steep in flavor, yet with every grain still perky - that I would not hesitate at all to say it was the best rice I've ever had in my life.  Apparently it's a constant subject of heated debate, where to have the best chicken rice in Singapore.  We didn't have a chance to try it at any place else, so I have no point of comparisan and I'm not trying to say it's the best in Singapore.  It's just the best rice I've ever had - and I may fly back just for that rice.

After that it's hard to enjoy the rest of the meal - nothing can compare -but to round out our dinner we also had Fried Venison with Spring Onion and Ginger ($18SG ~$14US).  This tasted like mongolian beef, but a bit rougher in texture and was tasty but not mind-blowing.  And given all the good and cheap eats in Singapore, this dish was not really worth the price.
To both get some veggies in, and to satisfy my pidan craving - we got the Poached Chinese Spinach with Assorted Eggs - also available at various sizes to suit the size of your party at SG $9 / $13 / $18 (~US $7/ $10/ $14).  We got the SG$9 size.  This was a delicious dish of soft, perfectly cooked spinach in superior broth, topped with a mix of fully cooked salted duck egg yolks, smooth and slightly gelatinous thousand year old eggs, and semi-liquid egg whites.  Great balance of golden / dark colors and textures.  Loved. 
As we sat and chatted contentedly after the meal, we got another pleasant surprise with our bill.  It was around Christmastime, and our server very kindly brought out a souvenir for us - a faux leather business card holder (surprisingly elegant looking for a free case from a casual restaurant!) embossed of course with BTK's logo.  Not sure what business cards have to do with the restaurant (maybe it's for us to put their business card inside?), but don't really care, it was a nice gesture that made us love BTK even more!

All in all, an awesome meal at Boon Tong Kee, which has several other outlets throughout Singapore.  If I had a chance, I would absolutely do a 'rerun' of Singapore and no-fuss, yet incredibly delicious spots like these.

Until next time, I will always have Boon Tong Kee (in my memories)....

[For more photos and stories from our trip to Singapore, check out the album on my Facebook page.]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

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Singapore
Boon Tong Kee
399, 401 & 403 Balestier Road, Singapore 329801
Ph: +65 6254 3937
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