Last Updated: January 31, 2020
Singapore’s hawker culture has definitely made a name for itself on the international stage. It’s no surprise that when tourists visit our country, a trip to a hawker centre is totally customary.
But of all the hawker centres in Singapore, there is one which is especially popular amongst the tourists. Of course, I’m referring to none other than Maxwell Food Centre.
A bustling spot for locals and tourists alike, it’s home to a multitude of good eats. That said, however, there is one dish which Maxwell Food Centre is particularly popular for: chicken rice.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice 天天海南鸡饭. Many foodies, local and foreign alike, regard it as one of the definitive spots for chicken rice in Singapore.
But do you know that there’s another chicken rice stall just steps away from the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice?
This stall is Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice 阿仔海南鸡饭, located just two stalls beside Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
To be honest, with all the spotlight on Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, I wouldn’t have noticed Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I heard that the two stalls actually have a history.
Not only that, but there’re also supporters on both sides claiming that their stall is better than the other! As such, I took it upon myself to head down and find out which stall has the better chicken rice.
For one, the queue at Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice was significantly much shorter, if any. This allowed me to chat with the owner, Ah Tai.
It turns out that Ah Tai actually used to work for Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. In fact, he was the head cook!
However, knowing how successful Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice came to be, I was curious to find out why he left.
Ah Tai explained that things quickly turned sour after his boss handed the business over to his daughter, the current owner of Tian Tian.
The boss’ daughter often locked horns with Ah Tai over the chicken rice business. Eventually, after over 20 years, Ah Tai left Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
But that certainly didn’t extinguish his passion for cooking. In 2012, Ah Tai set out to open his own stall and Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice was born.
To find out who had the better chicken rice, we got a plate from each stall.
A Steamed Chicken Rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice cost a whopping S$5 per plate.
Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, on the other hand, has a much simpler menu. Their Steamed Chicken Rice (S$3/S$3.50) is pretty much the only main dish they offer.
We pitched every element of the dishes head-to-head and the result was quite surprising.
At first glance, the thick cuts of chicken meat from Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice looked really promising.
The way the smooth chicken skin was glistening made our mouths water, a sign of good things to come.
Indeed, as we sank our teeth into the juicy meat, the flavours burst in our mouths.
The meat was tender, but with a firm chew which made it addictive.
The chicken from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, however, was slightly tougher.
I found it more unpleasant to chew on, as a result.
With regards to flavour, both were pretty on point, I must say. The chicken from both plates managed to soak up the gravy very well.
Both were equally matched and therefore, it was a draw!
As important as the chicken is in a plate of chicken rice, the rice is just as important.
The rice from Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice had only a very mild flavour of chicken stock. We didn’t feel much satisfaction from eating the rice. It was a huge miss for us, sadly.
Not only that, but we felt that the rice was slightly dry and tough too.
On the other hand, the rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice impressed us immensely.
Although the rice was clumpy, the individual grains were soft and fluffy.
Not to mention, the rice was sinfully oily too. This meant that every spoonful of rice had a robust umami flavour which kept us going back for more.
We unanimously agreed that the rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice was way better.
We Singaporeans love our spices and take them very seriously, especially with a plate of chicken rice. So we certainly weren’t going to forget the homemade chilli sauce from both stalls!
The chilli sauce from Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice had a satisfyingly strong spicy flavour.
We found that it went especially well with the rice since it didn’t have an overpowering taste.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice’s chilli sauce packed a slightly stronger kick. We could also pick up some zestiness in it.
However, I personally felt that it was a little too overwhelming for me.
The strong chilli took away the spotlight from the other ingredients of the dish, which shouldn’t be the case.
Therefore, I’ll have to say that I preferred Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice’s chilli sauce more. It was slightly more palatable and complemented the chicken and the rice.
While both plates of chicken rice had their own merits, Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice took us by surprise.
For S$3.50, we were able to get a really large portion of meat.
Not only that, but we also got a bowl of soup, as well as a total of three condiments.
Meanwhile, we got almost the same portion of meat from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, this was at a much higher price of S$5.
It also didn’t come with any soup and the chilli sauce was their only condiment.
In view of this, I’d have to say that Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice was a more value-for-money option.
Furthermore, we didn’t queue as long for Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice.
At Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, however, the concept of a quiet moment is quite foreign to them. There’s always at least one customer waiting for a plate of chicken rice from them.
Nevertheless, if you have the time and are keen to splurge, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice may appeal to you more. Their rice was indeed one of the most flavourful chicken-flavoured rice I’ve ever had.
But since I don’t like waiting for my food, Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice is definitely a formidable alternative.
That said, if you haven’t tried from either stall, you’ll have to try both to see which one you prefer!
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice 天天海南鸡饭: 1 Kadayanallur Street, #01-10/11, Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184 | Tel: +65 9691 4852 | Opening Hours: 10am – 7.30pm (Tue – Sun), Closed on Mon
Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice 阿仔海南鸡饭: 1 Kadayanallur Street, #01-07, Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184 | Tel: +65 8137 6559 | Opening Hours: 11am – 8pm (Wed – Mon), Closed on Tue