Review: Hawker Chan, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, Singapore

The Michelin Guide launched in Singapore in mid-2016. The one big revelation in the guide that got everyone talking was the awarding of a Michelin star to an unassuming little hawker stall in Chinatown markets, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. Costing mere dollars for a plate of their signature soya sauce chicken, it’s quite possibly the cheapest Michelin-starred eatery in the world.

Since it won the Michelin star, its fame has spread far and wide. The small hawker stall in Chinatown markets can no longer handle the amount of traffic it receives, and sells out by 2pm in the afternoon.

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That’s why we found ourselves heading to the brand-new sit-down restaurant opened as a larger branch of the hawker stall for a very late lunch one afternoon during our stay in Singapore. It’s still located in Chinatown, and is just opposite the markets so not too far from the original hawker stall.

The line is still long, but manageable. With sufficient seating and more than a dozen staff bussing tables, manning the till and preparing food in the kitchen, you’ll wait less than half an hour for a seat. Not bad!

Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, $4.50SGD
Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, $4.50SGD

The Soya Sauce Chicken is obviously the star of the show, and I can see why. The meat is ridiculously soft and tender, with the slightest hint of the soy braising. Where the soy is really highlighted is in the sauce which comes with the chicken no matter if you decide to have it served with rice, noodles or hor fun. It’s a fantastically rich, dark soy which tastes beautiful mixed through the noodles.

Char Siew Hor Fun, $4.80SGD
Char Siew Hor Fun, $4.80SGD

I don’t know if the Char Siew is on the menu at the original hawker stall, but I do recommend it for those who dine at the sit-down restaurant. While I think the char siew was better at Tasty BBQ in Bentleigh because of the sliver-thin slicing, the smokiness of this char siew was quite remarkable. Again, the soy sauce was fantastic mixed through the fresh slippery hor fun.

Soya Beansprouts, $3SGD
Soya Beansprouts, $3SGD

I find it difficult to have a meal without vegetables and so ordered the Soya Beansprouts. Very barely stir-fried, these beansprouts were still fresh and crunchy, enhanced by the crushed nuts on top. There’s no need to rely on heavy sauces in a dish like this when the produce is still so fresh and delightful eaten as is.

2 Combination Platter (Roasted Pork and Char Siew), $6SGD
2 Combination Platter (Roasted Pork and Char Siew), $6SGD

Despite having already had about four meals each prior to arriving at the restaurant, I decided that our group of four needed one more dish in order to complete our meal. I ordered the Two Combination Platter with Roasted Pork and Char Siew – unfortunately they were out of the Pork Ribs (the fourth type of meat they serve), so I had to opt for a second serving of the char siew. Worth it! 

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There are some who will argue that visiting the new sit-down restaurant isn’t as authentic as lining up for hours at the hawker stall. In most instances, I would probably agree with that statement. However considering the general heat and humidity of Singapore, I really don’t mind the occasional interlude in an air-conditioned restaurant when it means you don’t have to queue and wait for as long! 

Michelin-starred food at a bargain price. Surprisingly it’s not to everyone’s tastes – some German tourists sitting next to us actually ended up leaving the majority of their chicken on their plate when they left! I guess it really depends on your tastebuds and what you’re used to. For someone who’s grown up on this food though, Hawker Chan’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle not only tastes like the best of Singapore, but also like home.

The original Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, is located in the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre in Singapore. Their first sit-down restaurant is located at 78 Smith Street in Singapore.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Cixi, Zhejiang Province, China, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

Finishing our long European honeymoon with a quick stopover in China to see the maternal side of my family only helped to emphasise how ridiculously lucky we were to take the trip and to have the opportunities that we had. It’s not just that a trip of this magnitude would be entirely unaffordable for most of my Chinese family members. It’s also the education and the worldliness that we had growing up in Australia that has contributed to us wanting to go overseas to explore different places.

My family members are all entirely content living where they live in China, and never venturing outside of the country. “You don’t have this ingredient in Australia do you,” is a frequent sentence uttered at my grandmother’s dining table as they take delight in serving up strange sea creatures up for dinner. The idea of having to travel overseas and only eating hamburgers and steaks is horrifying, because they simply don’t know that there’s anything else available.

They’ve never been taught about the nuanced differences between different “Western” countries, and so French, Polish, Greek and English cuisines all meld together as a homogeneous cuisine of hamburgers and steaks. Why go overseas for that when you can have fresh fish and clams for dinner every night? After all they believe that it’s not like there’s any other historical or cultural things of interest to be found in other countries, because China is the greatest country in the world with the best culture and history.

This insular world view is made all the more ironic by the fact that the village where my family live is now more developed than ever with a greater exposure to the Western world. I even saw Westerners on local business in the hotel we stayed in! I spent a lot of time reminiscing to K about how things used to be whenever I visited as a child, and how different it now is.

Where we once had to do our business in a chamberpot, now there’s indoor plumbing. Where my grandfather once toiled in the fields, now the fields have been turned into factories and tiny one-room homes for the migrant workers flocking to the area for factory work. Where we once had to take an overnight ferry to the area from Shanghai, now there’s a new bridge that cuts the travel time to two hours on a public bus.

Just the fact that there are now restaurants and street food stalls in the area highlight how things have changed. They never used to exist because everyone cooked at home – what was the point of going out to eat? It’s only with the growth of the migrant worker population (now outnumbering the ‘locals’) that cheap restaurants and street food stalls have opened up to cater to those who don’t have full kitchen facilities in their tiny one-room residences.

I guess it just goes to show that even as the country develops at a breakneck pace and the standard of living is raised in China, it will take much longer for people’s mentalities and worldviews change. It certainly doesn’t help when the local CCTV news station reports on news the way that they do. My relatives remarked to me at one point, “Oh, isn’t it lucky that China doesn’t have shootings the way America does? We’re so safe here.” Yes, if you ignore all the corruption, human trafficking, drugs and domestic violence statistics…

I love China, the food, and my family of course. But I can’t help but wish for them to have greater exposure to the world and different ways of thinking that aren’t dictated to them by the Communist Party.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Krakow and Warsaw, Poland, April 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

There’s a friendly rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw in Poland that reminds me of the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Krakow holds a grudge against Warsaw for taking the title of ‘capital city’ away from them, and proudly claims that they have a longer history and local culture. For their part, Warsaw generally pretends that Krakow doesn’t exist and claims to be the epicentre of everything truly Polish.

Both cities have their attractions but just as I’ll always be a Melbourne girl rather than a Sydney girl, I have to say that Krakow rather than Warsaw holds more appeal for me. Built on a slightly smaller scale, Krakow feels more real and authentic, rather than artificial and manufactured. To be fair, Warsaw can’t help being a bit artificial – their ‘old town’ might look old, but it was actually only built in the past 50 years as the city was almost completely devastated by World War Two. As a result, what looks old is actually quite new, and what’s new are entirely cold and alienating monolithic Communist-era buildings.

By far the highlight of our time in the two cities were the free walking tours we did with the Free Walking Tour Foundation. While there are many cities that offer free walking tours, Poland does it particularly well. In each city, they not only offer the standard sights and history tour, but also a handful of themed specialist tours.

We did the Food Walking Tour in Krakow, as well as the Street Art Tour. In Warsaw, we did the Warsaw at War tour and the Alternative Warsaw tour. These specialist tours give you a fantastic insight into not just the ‘old town’ touristy parts of a city, but also into local culture, food, lifestyles. It’s an experience that I can highly recommend – guides are well-informed, knowledgeable and very engaging in the way that they talk about their city as well. You can tell when someone is passionate about their work, and these guides definitely were!

I also recommend doing a daytrip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz when in Krakow. It’s not a fun or exciting trip. It’s incredibly bleak and sad. But it’s important. There was a quote by George Santyana that was painted on a wall in one of the buildings in Auschwitz, and I think it applies in this case: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

While most of us will spend some time in school learning about World War Two, it’s hard to truly understand the true human impact of the atrocities committed in camps like Auschwitz. It’s not until you start to see the photos and hear some of the personal stories of people who were sent to the camps that you really begin to see what it meant to a whole generation of people. Lives were changed irreparably. Families lost loved ones. Whole families were lost. A whole community of people were lost.

Couple a visit to Auschwitz with some of the free walking tours focused on the Jewish history of Poland for a greater understanding of the devastation wrecked by the Holocaust. Be prepared to cry.

The food in Poland can a bit hit-and-miss, more so in Warsaw than Krakow I think. Our meal at Na Bednarskiej Pierogi in Warsaw was highly disappointing and it was really just the pastries we bought from Croque Madame that were particularly enjoyable. Our meals in Krakow were much better, with a good meal at Polakowski and a fantastic food walking tour around the city as well.

To finish this entry, I’d like to reiterate what I said about our meal at FamilijnyIf you feel lucky in being able to travel, then spread your good fortune where you can. Visit a canteen that welcomes homeless people if you go to Poland and order more than you need. Your leftovers won’t go to waste.