Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice: Revisiting a Legend (Or Something Like It)

Few things provoke more heated and lengthy conversations in Singapore than where to find the best chicken rice in the country.

Whenever the topic of where to eat one of the city-state’s national dishes comes up, everyone has a favorite. (Mine, for the record, remains a tiny stall hidden away on the fifth floor of downtown Far East Plaza — in the 20 years that I’ve been going there, it’s never failed me.)

Among the names that pop up, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is always up there. This stall, which has been operating for years in the popular Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, is terrific, to be sure. The chicken is juicy and tender, the rice is sufficiently oily and packed with pandan, chicken fat and other flavors, and the chili sauce, zingy and divine.

Even so, it had been many years since I’d had any Tian Tian because the lines for the stall’s rice are often simply too long. So when I found out that the stall opened an outlet near my home on Singapore’s East Coast, I had to check it out …

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Summery Mexican Chicken Stew: A Farmers’ Market Treat

The sweltering days of summer always make me crave two things: 1) Something cold. (If it’s bubbly, all the better.) 2) Something spicy.

So when the sous chef mentioned Mexican recently, the wheels started whizzing — talk about a food just perfect with an ice-cold beer on a super hot day. Tacos? Enchiladas? Spicy corn salads? Where to begin?

That’s when I came across a recipe for chicken braised in Mexican spices — a lovely preparation for chicken that leaves you with mounds of shredded meat and a deliciously spicy gravy.

As for what to do with the chicken and gravy, a trip to my Brooklyn farmers’ market seemed to be in order, especially since my Let’s Lunch crew had decided on a local market-inspired lunch dish for August …

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Chicken a la Jesse: Dinner, A Revelation

In life, there are often moments where you hear something you just can’t believe.

“I am making dinner …” recently was one such moment for me. And as soon as my friend Jesse – whom you may recall from his sharing of some lovely photos of India nosh with us recently — spoke those words, I insisted on knowing all the details: What are you making? How are you making it?

And most important: You can cook?

Jesse is many things — a terrific journalist and a talented photographer for starters. But cook? This I had to see.

Soon enough, a little stash of photographs appeared in my inbox …

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Chicken Cutlets Meunière: A Book Club Find

A lovely thing about writing a book about food: People want to feed you.

There were gifts of chocolate in both Paris and San Francisco. In Chicago, a reader showed up at my Women & Children First book signing with a box of home-made beef rendang (Indonesian-style beef curry) so tender and so delicious that I still think about it with great longing. And in Singapore, a very sweet cookbook author came to my Books Kinokuniya reading bearing a packet of fried carrot cake — so freshly cooked it was still hot! — from a hawker stall so popular you generally have to line up for half an hour just to snag a plate.

Just as thoughtful as the food offerings have been the recipes readers have shared. Some have been in their families for generations; others are more avant garde.

And among them all is a recipe so simple (and terrific) that it’s now part of my regular rotation: Chicken cutlets Meunière, gleaned from a charming little book club in New York City

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Turmeric-Sambal Chicken: A Singapore-New York Stir-Fry

Anyone who’s attended an A Tiger in the Kitchen event or reading in the last year knows: The big thing I learned from cooking with my aunties in their Singapore kitchens was the importance of “Agak-Agak.”

The Malay phrase, which means “Guess-Guess,” encapsulates their method of cooking. They don’t rely on recipes or cookbooks — ingredients are tossed into a wok by sheer estimation, one that’s based on powerful instinct honed from years of very good cookery.

Since my year of cooking with them, I’ve found myself inspired to do the agak-agak thing more in my kitchen. Where I once was terrified of simply peeking in the fridge and throwing dinner together, with my busy book travels recently, that’s become rather the norm. Out of this new practice, however, has emerged interesting stir-fries, stews and more.

Just this week, as I was trying to recall how I’d made a dish I liked a few months back, I realized with great chagrin that like my aunties, I’ve not written any of these inventions down.

Well, that’s going to be fixed.

Starting with this stir-fry, we’re going to start recording it all. If you love turmeric and sambal, then definitely read on …

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Easy Chicken Noodle Soup: A Speedy Remedy

It is never fun when one’s sous chef falls ill.

The chopping, the peeling, the dicing — it becomes too clear how distant a memory all that had become when the sous chef suddenly is too sniffly to wield a knife and dinner is suddenly before you.

And so it was that I went on a soup-making binge recently. If that’s what it was going to take to get the assistant back in commission, then by god, pots of healing soups simply had to be made.

Of the soups that filled our apartment recently, one stuck out …

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Green (Deviled) Eggs & Ham


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If it’s been a little quiet on this blog, well, there’s been good reason.

There is the issue of this book, you see. A book editing deadline, to be precise. After following my various exploits while traveling and researching “A Tiger In The Kitchen,” you’ll be patient, I hope, as I wade my way to the finish line later this month. The blog, with all its death-defying bread baking, restaurant explorations and virtual lunch dates, will be back to normal in no time, I promise.

In the meantime, however, there are things that can prod the bloggery back to life.

In this case, that would be a carton of green eggs, large, pert and in the loveliest shade of pale sage. The moment they were spied, said carton was whisked off the table at the Brooklyn Heights farmers market and ferried home for further inspection.

What to do with these green eggs? I immediately thought of the deviled eggs a talented artist friend, Moses Hoskins, recently served up for lunch …

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Chicken Adobo: Baguio Beckoning


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As we were hunched over the stove, embroiled in some recent kitchen experiment, my Singapore family’s maid Erlinda noted in passing that it’d been almost two years since she’d eaten her own home-made adobo.

Two years? This seemed like an interminably long time for a Filipina not to be enjoying her national dish, cooked by her own hand.

My mother doesn’t stock vinegar in the kitchen, she explained, which instantly makes brewing a pot of the vinegary pork or chicken stew impossible. And the soy sauce that we Chinese use happens to be just a little too sweet for real adobo, it turns out. 

Now, being a massive lover of the stuff, I immediately decided that Erlinda’s adobo drought needed to end. (This had nothing to do, of course, with the fact that my mouth often starts to water the moment I hear the word “adobo.”)

So, with some instructions from Erlinda on what she needed for her adobo, off we went.

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Winging It: An Easy Chicken Stew


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My mother will be the first to tell you that she is not a cook. 

(Even though she is. Sort of.)

In my family’s Singapore home, however, it is our maid Erlinda who does the magic in the kitchen most days. Her dishes are typically simple, delicious and never fail to hit the spot.

Like many good home cooks, improvisation has been the mother of many of Erlinda’s inventions. One of my favorite dishes is a super-easy chicken-wing stew that she first tossed together while thinking of the adobos she grew up eating in her hometown of Baguio in the Phillippines.

The stew she makes here, however, is quite different because my mother typically doesn’t stock vinegar in her kitchen. Instead, dark, sweet soy sauce is the main ingredient — but the result can be just as satisfying.

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