Nan Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice is probably a name which does not comes first to mind when you ask about chicken rice in the Bukit Merah region. Though maybe some may quip at the popular Char Kuay Teow store there. The Chicken Rice store however, one of my few favorite chicken rice stores to date given it’s balance in quality, price and service. The store is located at Bukit Merah Central Food Center at the far end of the government-managed Hawker Center on level 2 in Block 163.
Moreover, the stall is managed by two a husband and wife pair. A cheerful little lady handles your orders and serves you if the crowds are thin. She is always full of smiles. Her husband in contrast, is less sociable. He is always seen working behind the counter, preparing and chopping up the chicken and dishing out plate of chicken rice to patrons.
The history of Chicken Rice
Hainanese Chicken rice is Singapore Unofficial national dish. It started out as hand rolled Pandan rice balls, served over half a century ago during the 1920s. The dish was brought in by the Hainanese people from Hainan island in China. The Hainanese are one of the first Chinese dialects groups to settle in Singapore.
Moreover, these rice balls sell for about 5 cents each back then. Also, the balls, often known as the “poor man’s lunch” are often sprinkled with fatty oil to provide additional nutrition for hard larbourers in the early day’s of Singapore. The balls in folklore speaks that when eaten together, signifies harmony and family togetherness. These are important traditions in the Chinese Culture. Today, there is only a store I know of in Malacca Malaysia which serves chicken rice in traditional ball-form.
No bones about it
Nan Heng unique selling proposition is their boneless Hainanese-style chicken rice. You get exactly what it says on the tin. I am not quite a fan of chicken rice stores serving Chicken with more bones than meat. Personally, nothing quite puts down a meal than more than half of the chicken being ladened with skin and bones in weight. You feel ripped off wondering if you are getting your money’s worth than just “bones and rice”. Hence, you can tell that I am a big fan of boneless chicken rice by now. After all, you do get more edible chicken out of the weight of chicken with no hanky panky on your plate.
Do note that Nan Heng, especially during lunchtime can be rather popular, with queues snaking from the storefront. Wait times however, are nice and short. You are expected to wait most 10- 15 minutes to order with 8-10 people in front of you. The food comes up pretty quickly too as your meals is prepared right in front of you as you order.
A delightful boneless affair
Thankfully, I am pleased to report than Nan Heng Chicken Rice offers none of these quirks. They sure understand customers like me. The store does tick my boxes for good boneless chicken rice. There is plenty of chicken meat to go around. The chicken is flavorful, flavored by the chicken rice stock. It is made from a brew of garlic, cloves, ginger and pandan leaves. The pandan leaves give the stock a fresh aroma which the ginger and garlics brings out the taste. The fragrant stock is subsequently used to flavor the rice.
Moreover, the chicken meat are large in portions and boneless. If you have a group of at least 2-3 persons, it will be recommended to order a half chicken. Here, you will have chicken cuts in either steamed-white (white skin) or roasted (brown skin) chicken served on a separate plate. Notably, you can tell that quite alot of effort was involved in deboning the chicken served in their dishes. The chicken is completely devoid of any bones, all cleanly removed neatly without any traces.
Moreover, each plate of chicken rice are sprinkled with servings of oil before serving, which the store owner will squeeze out of a small plastic container. It adds for an optional extra flavor boost to your dish. The accompanying chicken rice is tasty, but not overly oily and brown like those in more traditional Hainanese Chicken rice stores, such as Golden Mile Thien Kee Steamboat or Tian Tian chicken rice at Maxwell. Hence, it is somewhat a healthier choice.
Additionally, on sides you have a selection of additional condiments such as a hard-boiled eggs, bean curd, green vegetables (Siao Bye Chai). The sides are fresh. Each servings costs an additional 50 cents per item. The hard-boiled egg is of the black sauce “Lor” type. The cooked vegetables and chicken parts are blanched and seasoned in chicken stock for flavor before serving on-plate garnished with dousings of oyster sauce. You get all your additions served on a separate and dedicated side plate if you order more than 3 additional side items.
Additionally, extras of chicken gizzards parts similarly costs a similar 50 cents. Hence, a sizeable lunch dish with Eggs and Vegetables will set you back about $4.50, this is very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food offered.
In addition to the chicken rice, Nan Heng also sells chicken porridge. It is similarly flavored using chicken stock and oil. Additionally, your meal is served with a small bowl of soup flavored out of chicken stock, which is tad bit too oily for my liking. Each dish is accompanied with a saucer serving of chicken rice chili which you can help yourself with. You get the garlic chicken rice chili mixed with black sauce at the bottom. It is not spicy.
Well priced for the servings
Request for servings of chicken breast and drumstick and you get large meaty chunks, which is extremely value for money. A chicken rice plate starts at $3.50. You get the standard plate of rice, chicken, with some pieces of cucumber by the sides. A fully loaded plate with all the extras costs about $4.50 to $5.00.
Good, but not perfect
However, satisfaction does lies in the taste of the beholder. I got feedback from co-workers and friends who tried the store didn’t find the chicken rice good enough to live up it’s popularity. Personally, I am not a fuzzy eater, but I find the chicken is not the best I had tasted in a hawker center. The meat at times can be tad bit too dry and raspy for my liking. But this is made up by the generous portions of chicken meat. In all, it is difficult to fault their chicken rice dish and it is actually enjoyable as a whole.
However, when dining on a standard single chicken rice plate, is always quite a mixed bag for me when it comes to servings of chicken. Nah Heng portions tend to be rather inconsistent. Sometimes my plate is overflowing with meat while some days, all I get are a few meat strands. Notably, the chicken portions seems to getting small and smaller each time I visit.
However, if you ask for the right cuts, you could get a serving boost without any extras. A thing to note too is that you tend to get lesser chicken meat if you add more sides. This could be due to the possibly given plate space limitations for chicken meat. You might not be having your money worth for the extra cash.
All in all, Nan Heng chicken rice is a store I recommend if you are looking for a good plate of chicken rice at a price which is hard to beat even today. The store opens 6 days a week till dinner time, with the exceptions that it is closed Sundays. Even with the quirks, the store is one of the few decent boneless chicken rice establishments still around I would dine at again.
Moreover, the portions are large and meaty, only if you know what chicken cuts to order. Also, the dish is not overly oily, pleasant to consume, and one that fills you well too you won’t feel miserable after the meal. It is definitely better than your average run-of-mill chicken rice store.
Nan Heng Hainanese Chicken Rice
Store Unit #02-28
163 Bukit Merah Central
Open daily 11:30am – 8:30pm
Closed on Sundays
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