Singapore (surprisingly) done right

Hainan Jiifan Shokudo

We walk through the pebbled entrance to Hainan Jiifan Shokudo and sit down to check out our paper placemats, which give us some “how to’s” on the specialty of the house: Singaporean Chicken Rice. Surprisingly, our cute placemat describes (in comic strip fashion) both how to eat it, as well as how to cook it. It’s a full recipe in fact, measurements and everything. Chicken, rice, sauce, cook the rice in chicken broth: doesn’t sound too hard, right?

Before we grab our placemats and head home to cook, however, we take a look around at the black and cream contrasting décor, which, with some flowery details, looks warm and not stark. The glass walls let in afternoon sun comparable to that of a sidewalk café, and their large, heavy, black-rimmed panes help the place look grounded and aged, not glossy. Impeccably designed this small restaurant has somehow managed to be both stylish, comfortable, and pretty (a decidedly un-stylish word).

So we’ll stay.

We order curry with roti parata, the famous chicken rice, shrimp and squid stir fried with cracked black pepper, and fruity cocktails and Singaporean beer. The seafood arrives first, and we chew on the perfectly cooked shrimp and squid, crunching down on the large chunks of black pepper, coarsely chopped. Sop up the last of the black pepper sauce with some jasmine rice, and we are ready to dig in to the chicken curry. Topped with plenty of fresh cilantro, the curry is rich and spicy; perfect with the flaky, light roti parata. The roti parata, just as fresh as one from a street stand in Singapore and still almost too hot to touch, tears off easily into strips to dip into the curry. We order some more to enjoy with our curry number two, thinner, and with a tomato base.

And of course the chicken rice. A deceptively simple dish, Singaporean Chicken Rice is not as easy as it sounds, and a Singaporean friend says this is one of the few places that gets it right. The rice is perfectly infused with chicken flavor and not at all greasy. The chicken is moist and perfectly cooked, sliced and ready to be dipped into a combination of the three vibrant sauces. We gobble it up, trying different ratios of rice to chicken to sauce, only looking up when our waiter stops by to refill our sauce trays.

A little mango pudding and we are on our way, stopping as we pay to notice that Hainan Jiifan Shokudo sells an attractive cookbook including many of the dishes we had eaten or salivated over on the menu. Admiring all the color pictures we thumb through and consider trying to recreate our Hainanese/Singaporean experience at home. But we put the book down and pay, knowing we’ll be back.

海南鶏飯食堂(Hainan Jiifan Shokudo)

Ebisu 1-21-14, Costa de Verano 1F. [behind Zest]

Tel: 3447-3615.

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