Across the many hawker centres in Singapore, Maxwell Food Centre is probably one of those that is not a secret to tourists. However, a tourist trap it is not. Locals frequent several stalls there in particular and as many Singaporeans love to do, they will stand in line for however long it takes to get that particular type of food they want to eat. The urge to eat and satisfy one's desire and craving is pretty strong in this city, I must say.
I think I have been told by local friends that I have officially become a Singaporean after choosing to stand in line for a good one hour at the Zhen Zhen Porridge stall, one the stalls at Maxwell that boasts the longest lines. Bless T for his patience. This stall sells out early too. There is a big metal cauldron with an automatic stirrer that goes on and on so that the rice porridge is constantly kept in a well blended and smooth texture. The male cook dishes out the rice porridge from the cauldron and into a smaller pot on the stove burner. The porridge is then individualized depending on the order. Porridge options include sliced fish, fish belly, chicken, and century egg. One order is prepared in one pot at a time; there are two pots going on at a time on the stove burner. The lady garnishes the food and collects the money from customers.
The porridge is the smoothest and creamiest we've had and seen with hardly any trace of individual rice grains. The other star item of Zhen Zhen Porridge is the yusheng (raw fish salad). Sliced raw fish is dressed with shaved lettuce, cilantro, ginger, sesame seed, sesame oil dressing, and accompanied with sliced fresh red chillies and lime.
We return to Maxwell on another day. When it comes to chicken rice, every Singaporean is passionate about this dish and everyone has their favorite. It's always a debatable topic on where to find better or the best chicken rice. Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice takes the number 1 spot out of the different places we've tried. We get there at 2pm and there is a line of customers despite the off peak hour. The lines does move a little quicker than Zhen Zhen Porridge.
We decide to do a little "chicken rice showdown" among ourselves between the Tian Tian and Ah Tai stalls. Just before this, we hear that Ah Tai, another chicken rice stall that is located next to Tian Tian, is operated by a previous chef of Tian Tian. There was a fallout which led him to open the stall next door, and even going so far as to having a signboard with the same blue color theme. We order half a chicken from each Tian Tian and Ah Tai. As important as the chicken itself, we also compare the flavored rice from both stalls.
Tian Tian's chicken is smooth and the skin retains the gelatinous layer which is very tempting to eat (admittedly, I decide to give in and sneak some chicken skin onto my spoon). It is what dreams are made of. The rice is fragrant and the glaze over the chicken has a good consistency. I spoon some glaze onto the leftover rice on my plate. Ah Tai's chicken pieces look more pressed and flattened. The texture is not the smooth as the chicken from Tian Tian. The glaze and rice from Ah Tai also fall short. (Note: The green serveware are from Tian Tian; the blue from Ah Tai).
The silky and milky broth with noodles at Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon is what drives the line of people at this stall. The line tends to form a few minutes before opening time. The fish slices here are large with a solid texture. I do find it is misleading that despite the name of the stall having the word bee hoon in it, the noodles used look more like lai noodles (round, thick, and slippery noodles) rather than what I've come to know as bee hoon (thin rice noodles). The broth is silky and the added evaporated milk into the broth adds to the consistency. The flavor is evident but overall lacks an oomph factor.
Maxwell Food Centre
1 Kadayanallur St
Zhen Zhen Porridge #1-54 (5:30am-2:30pm, closed Tue)
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice #1-10 (11:00am-8:00pm, closed Mon)
Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon #1-77 (11:00am-8:30pm, closed Thu)