Celebrity Chef, Baby Shoes And Chicken Rice
“The baby is wearing shoes today,” the kindly 50ish waitress remarks mid-way through our dinner.
“Yes, and pants. I was home this afternoon,” I tell her. She supresses a titter, smiles and turns on her heel to relay the latest gossip about today’s celebrity guests to the other staff, the juniors who are required to hang back a little.
Yes, Darling Man and I are celebrities in our neighbourhood. We are the managers, entourage, handlers – call it what you will – of Miss M, popularly known as The Little Doll.
Being a hanger-on has its advantages. For one, we get recognised. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re talking about a Singapore institution, the celebrity chef-endorsed place that’s regularly voted the city-state’s best chicken rice outlet.
Tian Tian found fame as a humble stall in the famous Maxwell Food Centre, ideally located between Singapore’s Chinatown and the financial district. Apparently, for years the mum-and-dad owners of the stall refused to expand. Then their kids showed some interest, and a fancy-pants air-conditioned outlet was opened in Joo Chiat Road, a street that runs from the red light (ish) Geylang to the groovily foodie Katong.
And luckily for us, the less-crowded air-contioned outlet is within walking distance of our house.
Can’t be bothered cooking — Tian Tian. Invited people round for lunch — Tian Tian for a “package” of takeaway. (I say takeway, they respond with “package?” I guess it’s called a package here, a term I find slightly snigger-worthy.) Feel like chicken rice — Tian Tian. Invite people for chicken rice — Tian Tian. The combinations are astounding.
But it’s damn good chicken rice. A gazillion miles ahead of the bland and tasteless chicken rice I experienced the first time I hit Singapore, determined to try the local dishes itemised by the guide book.
Cheap bland chicken rice is nothing to write home about. More likely to make you gag than write, actually. Cold steamed tasteless chicken, cut into strips, resting on a mound of beige lard-laced rice, garnished with some anemic looking odds and ends.
Tian Tian Chicken Rice on the other hand …
Tasty kampong (village) chicken, tasty chicken gravy, tasty chicken stock-infused rice, crunchy cucumber and clear soup, which can be improved enormously with a squirt of the house’s sticky black sauce.
We like to order a mix of steamed and roasted chicken. Darling Man likes to crunch bones. I don’t. No problem. Tian Tian’s wait staff know what kind of chicken rice appeals to Asian and Western diners. We usually order a side of green vegetables, even though in Singapore, where everything is imported, vegetables can be outragously expensive.
The rice part of Tian Tian’s chicken rice is rightly famous. That’s what Bourdain raved about, apparently. I like to top mine with a swirl of black sauce and ginger. Darling Man likes a ginger-chilli combination. Miss M likes it straight up. Self-serve, of course, which means chicken rice in her hair, in my hair, on my pants, on the floor, in my shoes, in her shoes, on the table and in her pram. And when we get home – in her nappy. Thank God celebrities get away with this sort of thing.
Celebrities – of any size – also seem to get away with turning up sans-pants, sans-shoes, with grumpy parents or with a large group which orders little and stays long. Turn up without said celebrity and you’re greeted with disappointment all round (and slightly smaller servings I’m sure) and much encouragement to bring The Little Doll tommorrow, or at the weekend, or next week. I nod and smile and make promises I don’t intend to keep and wonder about those comments I made in jest just after she was born about how she had all the hallmarks of a politician.
443 Joo Chiat Road and Stall No.10 Maxwell Food Centre
9 years ago