In the chicken rice world in Singapore, one hears of names like Swee Kee (Famous in the 70s and 80s), chains like Boon Tong Kee and Loy Kee, the famous Wee Nam Kee in Novena (now relocated to Goldhill), 5 star Chicken Rice in the East and the famous Tian Tian Chicken rice in Maxwell (made world famous by the patronage of the late Anthony Bourdain).
Then there is the famous name of Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice.
And one hears that there are 3 different outlets bearing that same name.
And intrigue and rumours are abound that there is some drama and even talk of litigation.
The elder Mr Leong
The story begins with Mr Leong Fook Wing who opened his stall in 1971 at the old Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre (off Margaret Drive).
Hence some of us refers to the Sin Kee name as the “Margaret Drive Chicken Rice”.
The best write up about the history of Sin Kee is from Johor Kaki’s blog.
Tony Boey is characteristically the most well researched food blogger in Singapore, and I was not surprised when I found his blog Johor Kaki having a well researched expose on Sin Kee.
The elder Mr Leong passed on in 2008 and the Sin Kee name continued with his 2 sons Niven and Benson.
Niven the older brother, sold his father’s recipe after his father passed on.
But Niven also started his own outlet known as Uncle Chicken Rice, first at Alexandra Food Village, then at Simpang Bedok Food Centre.
Both have closed down since.
In 2015, however, Niven started a new business known as Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice at Ubi Ave 1 and this is his outlet today.
Benson, the younger brother, continued his father’s business at Mei Ling Food Centre for quite a few years but subsequently relocated to Chang Chen Mee Wah Coffee Shop at Block 40 Holland Drive, where they are still at today.
That stall was initially in a corner front unit at that Coffeeshop but in recent years, changed to a different unit at the back (but in the same Coffeeshop) with a slight change of name.
That name now has the word “Cantonese” in it.
Rumours were abound that the stall has changed hands in terms of the investors, but Benson is said to be still the cook at this new unit.
The third Sin Kee
If you read the blogs about Sin Kee, it will all be about Benson or Niven.
Nothing much is known about a third Sin Kee that is said to operate at Block 6 Holland close.
Some people have said that before the elder Leong passed away, he sold the business to a franchisee and/or business partner.
It was said that the “franchisee” was told by the elder leong that he and his sons would not operate the Sin Kee chicken business any more but this was obviously not the case later.
The word “ Franchisee” suggested that some monies passed hands and rumours abound about litigation that ensued when Benson continued the business using the name Sin Kee.
But the facts are murky and no one really knew what has really transpired.
I have tried the stall operated by Benson at 40 Holland Drive. It was my go to chicken rice for some time until I discovered Sinn Ji chicken rice at Novena which is my current favourite.
I have tried Niven’s stall at Simpang Bedok and in recent years at his Ubi outlet but I must confess that I am not a fan.
I have not tried this third Sin Kee but I wanted for a long time to try it.
Today was the day.
Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice at Blk 6 Holland Close
I was surprised to see that the Sin Kee stall at block 6 Holland Close was an average sized stall in a Coffeeshop at the foot of the block.
For some reason (I don’t know why), I always thought it was a big stall or had their own dedicated shop. Maybe the word “franchisee” has planted some idea that it was a big operation.
I snapped a few pictures of the stall. The words Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice was in bright red, very different from the minimalist white lettering in the signage used by Benson and Niven.
I noticed that Niven used the exact same words while Benson has the words “Cantonese” added to his signage.
As it was post lunch time, I had my order instantly and sat down at the table right in front of the stall.
I started snapping pictures of my plate of chicken rice and took quite a few pictures.
I did not notice a man sitting right at the next adjoining table until he said in mandarin “the picture will look better with some spring onions on the chicken”.
I muttered a reply saying yes as my mandarin sucked and I was furiously trying to translate in my mind what he was saying.
Ok he was saying something about “nicer picture” and something about “yuan swee” (spring onions?) .
Or he could be commenting about Covid and vaccination in Uttar Pradesh – who knows ??
Like I said, my mandarin sucked to high heaven.
He stood up and came over and retrieved my plate of chicken rice and went to the stall. Ok it’s about the spring onions and this guy was the owner I’m guessing 😅.
He returned my plate to my table and I continued snapping more pictures.
I started eating and I could see him observing me intently. I gave him a thumbs up.
I got up to buy a cup of coffee and offered to buy him a cup which he graciously accepted.
So when I came back, we chatted and unwittingly, I got my unintended “interview”.
I was incognito and he did not know who I was. He didn’t know that I would blog about his stall. Indeed, right to the end of the conversation, he had no clue that I would be blogging about his stall, or about our conversation.
I got more information about the history of Sin Kee and about chicken rice than I ever imagined I would.
All the questions in my mind amidst the swirling rumours I heard were answered. He was more than candid with my questions and didn’t seem to mind sharing.
But out of respect for him, and because he didn’t know I would blog and certainly didn’t consent to my sharing anything he told me, I would not say anything seemingly confidential that was shared with me.
Perhaps I will only say the minimum – he confirmed that he was not family nor a relative of the elder Mr Leong, but simply that he was a friend of the late Mr Leong.
And he had trademarked the name of his stall.
I should also say that he was a gracious man. He did not in any way run down Niven or Benson’s business although they were clearly his competitors – he was gracious and a perfect gentleman with his remarks.
And he was clearly interested in the art of chicken rice. He confirmed that he focuses on the white poached chicken, which he plunges into ice water straight after poaching – very much how Benson and Niven prepares theirs as well.
He talked about his roast chicken and told me that it was best eaten piping hot just removed from the wok. Otherwise, he would advise that the white poached chicken would be his specialty.
He was genuinely curious to know which stalls I like and I shared my thoughts about Benson and Niven’s and about Sinn Ji (he took down the name and said he would go and try).
We spoke about a lot more but like I said, I would respect his confidence and sharing.
And how’s his chicken rice ?
He doesn’t serve soup just like at Benson’s stall.
I liked his chilli and ginger. The chilli had a nice kick and the ginger was delicious.
The rice I found too subtle for my liking. Don’t get me wrong – it is nicely flavoured.
But subtlety is not my middle name and when it comes to my chicken rice, I like it robust and slightly oily and reeking with a pungent chicken aroma.
That’s why I like Sinn Ji so much because their rice hits the spot for me.
I find the rice at all 3 Sin Kees too subtle for my liking.
But the chicken at Holland Close was delicious.
It was not as plumb as Benson’s and the sauce they put over the chicken was more restrained. But you could taste the pure essence of chicken and it was very flavourful.
I told myself it definitely warranted more visits. The next time, I would bring more Makan warriors and we will order a whole chicken to taste the bird in its full glory.
And I’m happy I got the full story of the Sin Kee intrigue and drama.
All questions have been answered. But it will stay with me.
I recommend you try all 3 and decide for yourself how you would rank them.
Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice (Niven )
Address: 304 Ubi Ave 1, Ubi DMQ Eating House #01-95, Singapore 400304
Phone: 9329 3123
Opening Hours: 11am to 8pm daily
Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice 新记驰名鸡 | (Benson)
Chang Chen Mee Wah 长城美华 Coffeeshop, Block 40, Holland Drive, Singapore (5 minutes walk from Buona Vista MRT station) | 11:00am – 7:00pm (Monday off)
SIN KEE Famous Chicken Rice (Holland Close)
Block 6 Holland Close #01-36, Singapore 271006