Chicken Rice is a beloved dish in Singapore, renowned for its savory flavor and comforting simplicity. Made with steamed chicken, fragrant rice, and a variety of flavorful sauces and side dishes, it is a staple at hawker centers and food courts throughout the city-state. It’s one of my favorite hawker center foods and one of the first dishes I take my out of town friends to try.
But is this popular dish actually healthy? Like my previous evaluation of whether Nandos Chicken is healthy or not, in this article, I will take a closer look at the nutritional value of chicken rice in Singapore, as well as its potential health benefits and downsides, to help you make an informed decision about whether it should be a regular part of your diet.
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History of Singaporean Chicken Rice
Singaporean chicken rice has a rich history dating back to the early 20th century. The dish is said to have originated in Hainan, a province in southern China, and was brought to Singapore by early Chinese immigrants. You will often times see chicken rice referred to as Hainanese chicken rice.
In its early days, chicken rice was considered a simple, everyday food that was typically eaten by the working class. It was primarily sold at hawker centers and food courts, and was not considered a particularly special or exotic dish.
Over time, however, chicken rice began to gain popularity throughout Singapore and Southeast Asia. This was in part due to the hard work and dedication of hawkers who began to experiment with different recipes and preparation methods, creating new and unique versions of the dish. Today, chicken rice is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore, and is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.
As Singapore has evolved into a global city, the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice has also gained international fame and recognition, it’s served in many restaurants worldwide and is considered a must-try dish for visitors.
As the popularity of the dish has grown, a number of variations on the traditional recipe have emerged, such as the use of different types of sauces or toppings, or the addition of ingredients such as ginger or garlic. Despite these changes, the basic principles of the dish – steamed chicken served with fragrant rice – remain the same, and it continues to be a beloved and iconic dish in Singapore.
Nutritional Value of Chicken Rice
The nutritional value of Singaporean chicken rice can vary depending on the specific recipe and preparation method used, but in general it is a relatively high-calorie dish that is rich in protein and carbohydrates. Here are some general nutritional facts:
- One serving of Singaporean chicken rice (about a cup) typically contains around 600 calories
- Chicken Rice is a good source of protein, as one serving contains around 25-30g of protein
- Rice, which forms the base of the dish, is a rich source of carbohydrates, providing around 45-50g of carbohydrates per serving
- It is generally a low-fat dish and generally contains around 5-10g of fat per serving
- Singaporean chicken rice generally does not contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals.
It’s important to keep in mind that these numbers are based on the general nutritional values of the dish and the actual nutritional value can vary widely depending on the portion size, cooking method, ingredients and the sauces or sides. Some recipes are made with high-sodium soy sauce, or with added fats or sugars, which can greatly increase the calorie and sodium content of the dish.
How is Singaporean chicken rice made?
I think in order to understand if chicken rice is healthy for you, we need to understand how it is actually made. Every chicken rice hawker stall in Singapore has their own recipe but the general ingredients are the same which means the nutritional aspect of it will apply to almost all the stalls. Generally, the ingredients for chicken rice are the following:
Singaporean chicken rice is a dish that typically consists of steamed chicken served with fragrant rice, along with a signature chili sauce and served with cucumbers. Here is a general overview of how the dish is made:
- Preparing the chicken: The chicken is usually poached or steamed. Before cooking, it is seasoned with salt and sometimes pandan leaves, ginger and garlic. This gives the meat a delicate, flavorful taste and makes it very tender.
- Making the Rice: Rice is an important component of the dish and is usually cooked in a mixture of chicken stock and pandan leaves, giving it a fragrant and flavorful aroma. Once the rice is cooked, it is usually rinsed with cold water to remove excess starch and make it less sticky.
- The Sauce: The most traditional version of the chicken rice comes with a ginger-chilli sauce and a soy-based sauce. The ginger-chili sauce is made of chopped ginger and chilies, garlic, and a little sugar to make it sweet. The soy sauce is made of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sometimes a little sugar as well.
- Assembling the dish: Once the chicken and rice are ready, the dish is assembled by placing a serving of rice on a plate and topping it with a piece of chicken. The sauces and side dishes such as cucumber slices, cilantro and soup is served alongside.
As you may notice, the main ingredients used in the dish are rice, chicken, ginger, and garlic. There are variations of the recipe, but usually it is prepared that way. The simplicity of the recipe allows the chicken and rice to be the main focus of the dish, with the ginger, chili, and soy sauces acting as a flavorful complement.
Chicken Rice is healthy for you
A lot of my Singaporean friends always talk about how unhealthy chicken rice is but I think that is just from folklore and the stigma attached to some of their beloved hawker food. However, the more I examine exactly what goes down in chicken rice, the more I realize it really isn’t unhealthy at all.
Singaporean chicken rice is a healthy dish because it is dense in protein, low in fat, and moderate in carbs. It is particularly low in saturated fat especially if you choose to not eat the skin. The chicken in chicken rice is poached which makes it lean and healthy. There is no chicken rice iteration that I’ve seen that involves frying the chicken. Furthermore, since the chicken is not grilled or fried, the skin is sometimes not even in the end product making it much more healthy.
A lot of fuss is made about the rice being soaked in chicken broth. The truth of the matter is, this doesn’t not mean the rice is covered in fat and oil. It is flavored with the juices of the chicken and that doesn’t mean you are eating total fat. Chicken stock is not unhealthy or particularly fatty.
Does this mean you should eat as much chicken rice as possible? No. As with any food, you need to watch your caloric intakes and chicken rice has plenty of those to go around. If you’re watching your weight and wanting to lose some, you wouldn’t be going to a hawker market anyway. Aside from that, chicken rice is a healthy dish that you can eat without feeling too guilty.
Chicken rice is not that high in calories
The term “unhealthy” gets thrown around too easily and I think one needs to define what healthy and unhealthy even means when it comes to chicken rice.
Is it high calories? If you’re a small girl, too many calories might be “unhealthy” for you but for someone like myself, the calories from chicken rice is too little. If you weigh 50 kg, then 600 calories is more than 1/3 of your daily recommended calories but for someone like myself who weighs over 80kg and works out heavily, it’s only 20% of my daily calorie needs.
Are carbs unhealthy? If you are on a paleo diet, then perhaps they are but remember that we all need carbohydrates in our body to function properly. Rice is a staple in half of the world and if it is actually that unhealthy, I’m sure at some point in the last 5,000 years, rice would have been erased from our palette.
What about fat? Again, your body needs fat to function so it is not the enemy that the Atkins diet tried to make it out to be in the 1990s. Singaporean chicken rice has fat like any other foods but the amount of saturated fat which is the real issue is low. Chicken is low in saturated fat, especially if you avoid the skin. At some stalls, the rice is definitely more rich and intense than others. You can sometimes taste the fat in the rice which definitely means you’ll be consuming more. It just depends on where you go.
If you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll probably want to eat less chicken rice due to its calories, but if you’re looking to gain weight, then you could eat two servings of chicken rice and it wouldn’t even be enough. It all depends on your individual situation!
Chicken rice for working out and building muscle
Chicken Rice is actually a decent meal for those working out and looking to build muscle. Chicken is one of the staples for those looking to get more protein in their diets which is what you need when working out.
Chicken Rice has a good helping of protein as you can imagine. However, for someone like me who needs something in the range of 150-180g of protein a day to keep my physique going, I often times will get double or even triple meat at chicken rice places. Often times, I will order double the meat to get extra protein in.
Often times, I will get a large helping of chicken rice after my workout at one of the many gyms in Singapore.
Chicken rice is affordable
Chicken rice is food for the people and it is one of the cheapest foods you’ll find in Singapore. A typical dish of chicken rice will be $3.5-$4.5 SGD. Many hawker stalls have different sizes that you can order as well as set dishes which usually includes veggies of some sort.
Compared to something like Nasi Lemak, chicken rice is actually more expensive on a per gram basis. Chicken rice is not an easy dish to make and it takes these workers many hours to marinate and prepare the chicken correctly. The fact that it is as cheap as it is goes to show how good the value for money premise in Singapore is.
My favorite chicken rice hawker stalls in Singapore
Singapore is the king of chicken rice and every hawker market has numerous stalls dishing out the best of chicken rice. Each places has its own recipe and each stall composes a different melody of their chicken, rice, and chili sauce. I’ve been to many chicken rice stalls throughout Singapore and I’ve not even scratched the surface of what is good and what is bad. Here are some of my highlights:
- Tian Tian Chicken Rice – Maxwell Food center
- Boon Tong Kee
- Pow Sing
- Sin Kee Chicken Rice
- Maxwell House chicken rice
- Loy Kee Chicken Rice
However, my absolute favorite chicken rice stall has to be Katong Mei Wei Boneless Chicken Rice. This place literally transcends chicken rice and takes it to the next level. They have the perfectly juicy chicken with succulent rice and a spicy sambal. I hate bones in my chicken rice and this place never messes with bone.
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