My husband scanned the air-conditioned room before saying it: "I know this is Michelin star-rated food," he whispered, glancing to make sure no one had stopped chowing down on their chicken breasts long enough to hear him, "but it's not that good."
We were inside Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle Hawker Chan, the restaurant version of the cheapest Michelin star-rated meal in the world. Across Smith Street, in the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre in Singapore, stands the OG stand, where hundreds gather daily to order the now-famous dish for which the restaurant is named. What's the difference? The comfort of AC, and a $1.28 price increase per plate.
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At the hawker stand, a healthy portion of Hong Kong soya chicken rice costs two Singapore dollars, or about $1.42. At the restaurant, you'll drop a (whopping) $2.71 for the same.
Note: the next cheapest Michelin star-rated meal is also in Singapore, at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, where a bowl will set you back about $3.56, and at least an hour of your time.
We walked into Hawker Chan at 11:20 a.m., and a healthy line of five people in front of us had already formed. We hunkered down for a long wait, but found ourselves at the counter seven minutes later, and with our food ready for pickup a miraculous 13 minutes after that.
We'd braced for the long wait our friend—who'd just celebrated his one-year move to the city-state—had warned us about. On any given day, Hawker Chan and its stand often face queues that take more than two hours to move through. So, making it to the front of the line in mere minutes, in the cool breeze of central air, felt like hitting the lottery.
Seated on red-colored chairs at long, cafeteria-style tables, we dove into chicken and rice, plus a side of noodles, with our disposable chopsticks. We'd expected, well, a lot. But as we chewed the tender meat, the flavor of the breast seemed to fall short of those admittedly high expectations. After a few silent bites, my husband leaned in and whispered his blasphemy.
You know what? He wasn't exactly wrong. The soy-braised chicken was succulent. The sauce on the rice had a sweet tang. The noodles were delightfully charred and springy. And yet, as we continued to eat, the pair of us—people who'd together only visited a handful of hawker stands—couldn't help but wonder what all the fuss was about this particular one.
By the time we left the restaurant—a to-go order in hand for our Singapore-based friend—several people were already waiting for our chairs and the line was nearly out the door. We handed off the extra meal with the strictest instructions: You know Singapore hawker food, so you have to tell us whether we're way off base, we said.
After he'd cleaned his plate, our friend confirmed our suspicion: The meal had all the makings for a solid—if not somewhat plain—lunch for very little money. But there is better hawker food to be had in this city-state.
Our verdict? It's worth a stop, if only to say you snagged the cheapest Michelin star-rated meal in the world, and support an awesome, growing business. But if you're willing to drop the extra dollar, we can also highly recommend Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.