Maxwell Food Centre has seven chicken rice stalls. Which one is your go to chicken rice at Maxwell? Here’s one from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (01-10/11), the most famous of them all and features snaking long queues (mainly from tourists and curious locals) during lunch hour in better times. It has received rave reviews from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay.

There are two sizes available ($3.50/$5). Go for the $5 one as the $3.50 portion won’t fill up your stomach. So what makes it so special from others? It lies in the rice and the chilli sauce. The flavoured rice is fluffy and fragrant as they use loads of garlic, chicken fat and chicken stock. The rice is good and consistent in texture.

Having eaten Tian Tian for over 20 years, I can boldly say that standards have dropped quite a bit and lost its original shine. It’s not inedible, but it errs towards the side of inconsistency. Perhaps they cook most of the food in a central kitchen now. When I had the chicken rice on my very last visit, it was fairly good probably because I was given the chicken drumstick. The drumstick was soft, juicy and tender which made me reminisce my younger days. But the steamed chicken breast meat is rather tough on most occasions. So opt for dark meat here for a pleasant experience.

Chilli sauce here is rather spicy and tangy. The taste of the ginger, garlic and lime is evidently strong. Don’t have too much in one go if you aren’t good with spice.

So how does this compare with its closest competitor Ah Tai? My vote goes to Ah Tai. Ah Tai’s version reminds me of the old Tian Tian (the owner parted ways some years back) while Tian Tian feels rather commercialised.