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.

One of Tian Tian's junior staff

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.

Anthony Bourdain has raved about this place’s chicken stock-infused rice. Bloomberg voted it Singapore’s best way back in 2006. An observant diner in the Joo Chiat restaurant will notice a whiteboard listing that week’s media obligations and photo shoots. Tian Tian Chicken Rice is a home-grown Singapore superstar. And we always get shown straight to the best table. 

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 …

Tian Tian Chicken Rice

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.

Roasted chicken rice

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.

Tian Tian Chicken Rice
443 Joo Chiat Road and Stall No.10 Maxwell Food Centre

11 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. John says:

    Yum! Chicken and rice together is one of my favourite dishes; this sounds delicious
    John recently posted..Argentina Rocks- New Travel Day Rising

  2. jade says:

    I like my rice with ginger/chili combo too. It adds like a sweet/spicy mix that is so good! Love the photos!

  3. Lucky you, getting shown to the best tables! That’s what happens when you have cute kids! πŸ™‚
    The food looks fantastic there. I think I’d have to take the chilli option with my rice.
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..3rd ÜzΓΌmlΓΌ Mushroom Festival 2011

    • The Dropout says:

      For us, the best table is furtherest from the door! That gives us a few extra seconds before we have to chase Miss M and bring her back. She is very active and inquisitive.

  4. Laurel says:

    It’s so nice that I know a celebrity πŸ™‚ Miss M sounds adorable and I think pants and shoes most days are overrated:) I didn’t realize that vegetables would be so expensive in Singapore.
    Laurel recently posted..Top 5 Free Sights in Schaffhausen Switzerland

    • The Dropout says:

      Laurel, the attitude towards babies here in Asia is incredible. Often the waitresses will pick the back up and carry her around for a bit, pass her around the staff and give her sweets. So different from back home!
      And yes, vegetables are pretty expensive here. Singapore is so small they don’t have any farmland.

      • That’s so interesting! If I had a child and wasn’t expecting something like that, it would momentarily freak me out like whoa. Different cultural customs are fascinating.

        And I cook the most bland food ever, so plain rice and chicken sounds great to me. πŸ˜›
        Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

        • The Dropout says:

          Yeah, Christy, I have to admit the first time it happened, when the baby was only a few months old, I was a bit freaked out, even though I was expecting it. Even more freaked out when they’d take her upstairs or to the next-door restaurant to show her off.
          Now I enjoy it, although I usually keep an eye on things.

  5. robin says:

    Another ridiculously mouthwatering post. Sharp, sharp writing.
    robin recently posted..Viento

  6. Miss P says:

    In my aimless channel surfing the other day, I came across a Singaporean food show on SBS. There was a pretty young thing interviewing a Singaporean expat chef, now with a restaurant in California and famous for his chicken rice. He explained that he cooks it two ways depending on whether or not the customer is Asian. Asians apparently like the meat with bones, while lazy Americans just want the breast. Different presentation style too. I’ll also take the “easy”‘option that doesn’t involve spitting half-chewed bony bits into my napkin!

  7. Jim says:

    Agree chicken and rice needs to be spiced up or can be so bland. A little ginger, garlic, and chilli to open those taste buds up and it’s so different!
    Jim recently posted..I IS FOR INDIA- THE A- Z CHALLENGE

  8. Kent @ NVR says:

    OK, you’ve gotta stop it with these food posts. It all looks too good. Oh, and “The Little Doll” sounds impossibly cute.

  9. Nancie says:

    This looks delicious. I had some great chicken rice when I was in Malacca.

    Yes, I am sure your little celebrity opens up many doors, and gets you lots of yummy extras! πŸ™‚

  10. Theodora says:

    No pants?! Crikey, sounds like Miss M belongs in Ubud, not Singapore.
    Theodora recently posted..First Leg Second Thoughts

  11. Grace says:

    Will you take me to this heavenly chicken outlet when I go to Singapore? I don’t know when but I intend to soon.
    Grace recently posted..The Philosophy behind Solo Travel

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