Heng Ji Chicken Rice: Singapore’s oldest chicken rice stall serves old-school versions for nearly 70 years at Chinatown

Heng Ji Chicken Rice is probably the oldest chicken rice stall in Singapore that is still standing. Rooted in Smith Street, Chinatown, for over 60 years, the chicken rice stall has been serving its own fanbase for the longest time even when it was located at a food alley back in 1970. Now relocated to Chinatown Complex Food Centre, the brightly lit stall sits at the red zone of the hawker centre.

Something in me wanted Heng Ji Chicken Rice as my lunch fix that day. What I didn’t expect was the crazy lunch crowd at the hawker centre to be absolutely insane. I knew Chinatown Complex to be a labyrinth with 220 stalls, but I was overwhelmed by the queues that were at every nook and corner. The hawker was the epitome of the phrase, “packed like sardines”.

There we go, I found Heng Ji Chicken Rice after walking through the maze. The brightly lit white signage is very distinct and hardly missable. Unlike what I thought, I anticipated a long queue. But I will count my blessings of not queuing and quickly get my plate before it forms!

The display of the distinct pale white chicken is their specialty— old-school chicken rice. While many chicken rice stalls offer a variation away from the traditional poached chicken, with offerings of roasted chicken rice or lemon chicken rice, Heng Ji Chicken Rice only specialises in poached chicken rice.

There were 3 people attending to the stall. An older man chopping up chicken, a lady who seems to be the wife of the elder man receiving orders and a younger man at the back of the stall handling operations.

I was quite surprised by this as I was expecting the elderly lady that used to helm the store when I visited quite a number of years back. Maybe I wasn’t caught up to date, but Heng Ji Chicken Rice has undergone 2 change in owners since the pandemic struck in 2020.

I chatted up the owner by asking how long the stall has been opened and he mentioned that his boss opened this stall for “70 years”. I did up my own research only to find out that they used to open a street stall by the food alley at Smith Street. I knew this stall was old but I didn’t know it was that old!

What I tried at Heng Ji Chicken

As I deliberated between ordering a quarter or half a chicken, the uncle suggested that I ordered the S$10 portion chicken for two pax. Their quarter chicken costs S$8/S$9 and half a chicken costs S$14, so the in between was indeed perfect for me. This goes to show that uncle really does know his customers!

I also got two bowls of rice for my partner and I for S$0.70 each.

Throughout the years, the prices have risen from S$2.50 for a bowl of chicken rice to S$3.80. However, the raise is warranted due to the recent pandemic circumstances and GST hike.

I collected my mountain-like plate of chicken. The price was not bad for its portion!

The succulent poached kampung chicken was chopped up into many pieces and I quickly dived straight to find the thickest cut of meat. Poached to a perfect doneness, the meat was tender enough to carry a certain bite to it.

Time to start my meal! How else do I enjoy my chicken but with a bowl of fragrant chicken rice?

With a slice of soggy cucumber and a pinch of chilli, my experience was completed. A bite in and it was as if I was back in the 70s, savouring the chicken rice that carried so many years of heritage starting at the roadside of the old Smith Road. It was truly a mouthful of nostalgia.

While I can go on and on with praise for Heng Ji Chicken Rice, one thing I wished they could’ve done better was to have larger bowls of rice. Albeit priced at a cheaper rate, the bowls were quite small. Hence, if you have a larger appetite you can totally opt for another bowl!

Something else that I noted was the fragrance of pungent spring onions. This was clearly from the liberal use spring onions that were cut up and sprinkled on top of the gorgeous plate. I love how onions add a tangy taste to the already sweet tasting chicken.

Although the plate was not overtly saucy, the portion was sufficient enough to highlight the main dish. The chicken is already soft and juicy on its own, so there is no need to douse more sauce on top of it.

However, it is easy to tell that the chef took notice into every single component with the aromatic notes from the sauce. The salty-savoury tasting sauce is probably made with a base of sesame oil with a hint of dark sauce for a light sweetness that pairs really nicely with the protein.

Chicken rice is minimalistic in its nature. Usually, it consists of chicken, you fan, and cucumber, so every single component is extremely important! Over here, the cucumbers were soggy from the placement of how they sat below the chicken. Drenched in the lovely juices of meat and sauce, they tasted extremely delicious.

Most of my fussy friends are usually caught shoving their cucumber portions to the side whenever we have chicken rice. While I understand how cucumber can be an element that people don’t enjoy because of its tasteless nature, this was different. Unlike most cucumbers served with chicken rice that are hard and crunchy, these had a semblance to nonya achar, which tastes less raw and much more flavourful!

Final thoughts

Chicken rice is such a simple meal, but indefinitely enjoyable at Heng Ji Chicken Rice. This is my definition of simple pleasures.

I can understand how the passing of ownership might affect the popularity of the stalls, but I believe that they still hold a certain standard to be able to sustain for so many years. Thanks for satisfying my chicken rice cravings, Heng Ji Chicken Rice! It was as if my grandmother cooked up a fare for me.

Expected damage: S$3.80 – $6 per pax

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