There is more to Hainanese food than just Hainanese Chicken Rice, and also includes the likes of Hainanese Pork Chop, Hainanese Curry Rice, and Hainanese Lamb Stew.
Even the familiar local breakfast of kaya toast, kopi and soft-cooked eggs is considered “Hainanese”.
If you have always been wondering ”What is there to eat at Bukit Panjang?”, there is a NEW The Hainan Story 海南宝 at Hillion Mall Level 1 which gathers the best of Hainanese cuisine in one place.
This is a 5-in-1 multi-brand Hainanese restaurant, with familiar F&B brands of Wee Nam Kee and Ah Chiang’s Porridge, alongside three new names of The Hainan Story, Newspaper Curry Rice and Uncle Robert Western.
The Hainan Story team has worked together with numerous Hainanese chefs to create comforting and nostalgic meals.
I saw that there are several modern touches in its culinary execution as well. For example, you can get Gula Melaka Kaya and Cheese on your toast, “Hae Bee Hiam” Spaghetti, and Pork Cutlet coated with potato chips crumbs instead (of cream cracker crumbs).
Here’s more on the 5 brands at The Hainan Story:
The Hainan Story
This is more than the Toast and Coffee concept, also offering a range including Hainanese Claypot dishes, Hainanese British Pie, Egg Tarts, Cake of the Day, and even Ice Cream with Waffles.
The highlight is the homemade Gula Melaka Kaya with Butter Toast ($1.80 ala carte, $4.80).
Instead of the usual thin flat options found elsewhere, this breakfast toast takes the form of a pillow-soft bun lightly toasted – with a slight crust yet remain fluffy on the touch.
The smooth and creamy kaya worked agreeably with the soft buns (especially after the butter melted through), though I wished the caramelised-sweetness of the Gula Melaka could be more distinct.
“Bulletproof coffee” has become rather trendy these recent years, but the Hainanese have their own form of “Kopi Gu You” which has been in Singapore coffeeshops since the 1930s.
Get your Kopi, Kopi O or Kopi C with butter (additional $0.60). I don’t mind this once in a while, as adding butter gives the kopi a more aromatic and full-bodied, along with a texture that goes down very smoothly. Or for those on keto diet.
Some people may miss out the Hainanese Delicacies section, but there are also claypot and noodle varieties here.
This includes the hearty Ah Kor Hainanese Lamb Stew with Rice ($11.80) or with Crispy Noodles ($12.80), Hainanese Claypot Chicken “Char Siew” Rice ($8.50), Hainanese Clay Pot Ee-fu Noodle Soup ($8.50) and Laksa with Hainanese Steamed Chicken ($8.50).
Newspaper Curry Rice
Hainanese Curry Peng is generally characterised by rice slathered with gloopy curry gravy and soy-based thick braising sauce.
While Newspaper Curry Rice is a new-to-market brand, the curry chicken recipe is said to be passed down the generations from a staunch Hainanese matriarch. Don’t play play.
All their curry, sauces and recipes are made from scratch, including the homemade sambal.
To keep things easier, there are 6 sets to choose from, priced between $6.80 and $9.80. The main ingredients in each of the 6 are the Curry Chicken Drumstick, Fried Chicken Drumstick, ”Kou Rou” (pork belly), Fried Pork, Prawn Fritters and Crispy Fried Silver Dory Fish.
All sets are accompanied by freshly steamed rice, prawn crackers, sambal tempeh, sambal belacan and your choice of a homemade vegetable and egg dish – get the long-bean egg omelette.
I went for the Nanyang Flavour Fried Chicken Drumstick Set ($6.80) – which interestingly was the most inexpensive of the 6. The drumstick had crunchy skin with golden-brown glaze that reminded me of Korean-style chicken.
The Hainanese curry was light and complex; overall the sauces were not the rich and gooey kind, and I wished there was more so that the rice grains would get ‘drenched’. The sambal chilli belacan with the punch was the other highlight.
Uncle Robert Western
Hainanese cuisine is intricately linked with the British colonial era in Singapore, resulting in the Hainanese-style Western food we see quite commonly around now.
Uncle Robert – not a real person, offers Old English Oxtail Stew ($18.80), Grilled Cheese Chicken Chop with Sweet & Sour Sauce ($14.80), Hainanese Crispy Pork Wrap Served With Fries ($11.80), Sir Charles British Fish (Seabass) & Chips ($21.50), and Hainanese Seafood Pasta with Spicy Tomato Cream ($14.80).
The 1980’s Hainanese Fried Pork Cutlet Coated with Potato Chips Crumbs ($14.80) was the recommended highlight.
I grew up in an era when cream crackers were pounded and used as crumbs for our home-cooked pork chops. Uncle Robert Western uses potato chips crumbs instead, which is said to lend the dish a more flavourful profile and crunch.
The pork loin is also marinated in a special mixture of celery, carrot, spring onions and seasoning to better bring out its natural flavours. The pork came in a rather huge slab, even good for two to share, though I thought that slice was slightly to the thick side.
Before you ask ”Where are the tomato gravy and peas?”, this cutlet comes paired with a choice of Yogurt Rojak (creamy and nutty sauce) or Zesty Alabama White BBQ Sauce.
Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice
For lovers of Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice founded in 1987 by the late Mr Wee Toon Ouut needs little introduction.
For individual diners, you can go for the Steamed or Roasted Single Chicken with Rice ($5.20, $5.70 for drumstick), Vegetable Set ($7.50), Dumpling Set ($8.30), or Vegetable & Dumpling Set ($10.90).
If you come in a group, available are the Quarter Chicken ($8.90), Half Chicken ($17.20) or Whole Chicken ($34.40).
The fresh chickens used are simmered in premium chicken bone stock along with a selection of ingredients at a carefully controlled temperature, so that the poached chicken is more succulent and flavourful.
Best dipped in the accompanying chilli sauce and ginger.
My favourite part was the fluffy rice, with pandan fragrance and not too greasy.
Ah Chiang’s Traditional Porridge
Ah Chiang’s Porridge is my go-to-place for porridge whenever I am at Tiong Bahru. Other than this outlet Tiong Poh Road, Toa Payoh, JEM, this space within The Hainan Story is its fourth.
Founded by Ah Chiang’s uncle since 1968, the porridge is still prepared the same original recipe using the quality rice grains, with no further condiments added. I would usually add a dash of soy sauce and pepper for seasoning.
A set here comes served with two kinds of daily side dishes and you tiao which you can mix in.
My default choice would usually be the Mixed Pork Porridge ($9.50 for set, additional $0.80 for egg) which comes with handmade pork balls and sliced tender pork meat. (Accordingly, they use fresh pork from Tiong Bahru Market and fish from Pasir Panjang Fishery Port.)
While the bowl may look simple and plain, the winning formular is its smooth-creamy consistency with fresh ingredients.
The Hainan Story
Hillion Mall #01-15/16, 17 Petir Road, Singapore 678278
Tel: +65 6970 8191
Opening Hours: 7:30am – 9:30pm (Mon – Sun)
* This entry is brought to you in partnership with The Hainan Story.