Best chicken rice in the US? Interview with LA chef catches Singapore netizens' attention

Chef Johnny Lee at his once-a-month chicken rice pop-up stall in Los Angeles’ Chinatown area.
Chef Johnny Lee at his once-a-month chicken rice pop-up stall in Los Angeles’ Chinatown area.PHOTO: ALISON DE SOUZA

SINGAPORE - A Los Angeles web magazine's interview with a chef who claims to serve the best chicken rice in the United States has caught the attention of Singaporeans online.

In an article titled Meet The Hainan Chicken Whisperer, online food news magazine Eater LA spoke to 29-year-old Johnny Lee, who recently launched a store called Side Chick selling chicken rice in Westfield Santa Anita.

Lee, who moved to Los Angeles from China's Guangdong province when he was one, waxed lyrical in the article about the sustainability of chicken, "honouring" his ingredients as part of Buddhist philosophy and the different "grains of muscle going through" the chicken breast.

He also shared his preferred preparation methods with Eater LA, including taking "melted chicken fat and (stirring) it into cooked rice, like folding butter into the rice the way Westerners might do".

The article, published on Dec 6, has drawn mixed reactions from those in Singapore.

Well-known Singaporean restaurateur Michel Lu shared the post and called it "an unbelievable amount of drivel", to which Facebook user Eric H. Kong said the dish "can't compare to Singapore's Hainan chicken rice".

 

Other netizens had more measured responses, like chef Jeremy Nguee, who said: "I hope that amidst the article bashing, Singaporeans realise that the same level of effort has been undertaken by our hawker masters to perfect so many dishes and have been doing so for many more years."

The Chinese-American Lee launched a monthly pop-up stall in Los Angeles' Chinatown reportedly selling the same dish early this year, and in May (2016) told The Straits Times that he got his sauce recipe from Justin Baey, a Singaporean chef working in Los Angeles.

His US$7 (S$9.65) boxes of chicken rice drew snaking queues at his pop-up stall, where he sold about 200 plates in just a few hours. The dish came with an optional fried egg.

Chicken rice is a topic close to the hearts of Singaporeans and this is not the first time it is ruffling feathers online.

 

In October, Canadian chef Matty Matheson shared his Hainanese chicken rice recipe on online media site Vice's food section, Munchies, listing ingredients such as sesame seeds, anise hyssop and edible flowers.

Netizens were appalled, with one user, Yanting Yeo, commenting on the page: "My goodness... This is not how we serve it here in Singapore! We do not spoon the broth over the rice!! And we cook the rice with ginger and garlic! And why edible flower!?"