When it comes to a good Cantonese styled braised soy sauce chicken, a few brands immediately pop up like the Michelin starred Hawker Chan or the historic Chew Kee. In fact, soy sauce chicken is so popular, you can find one good stall almost in every hawker estate.
There is one particular stall in Chinatown Food Center that screams out to me every time I walk past; partially due to it’s loud and weird signboard and also because of the snaking queues during meal times. The signboard is literally translated as Ma Li Ya Virgin Chicken ( Maria’s signature virgin chicken).
During one of my weekly trips to the food center, I decided to give this stall a try as the queue was manageable on that day. As I was queuing up for my turn, I realised that they are actually using the recipe from Nan Tang ( Nam Tong ) which is a very popular Cantonese styled tea house serving dim sum and soy sauce chicken in the 1920s. I did some research and found out that the father of the lady ( Ms Maria ) chopping the chicken at the stall now was a partner of the old Nam Tong and she has been helping out in the kitchen then when she was just 9 years old.
With a 92 year old recipe her father brought back from Hong Kong, Ms Maria now helms the stall although the ownership belongs to someone else. It is also quite widely known that the chef from the ever so famous Michelin starred Hawker Chan worked for Ms Maria before striking out on his own so in a way he is Ms Maria’s protégé. They offer 2 types of chicken:- the smaller sized chicken with rose soy sauce at SGD 12 and the medium sized at SGD 14 while the signature virgin chicken at SGD 20 per bird. The one in this picture is the medium sized one which is good for sharing for 3 to 4 persons.
The chicken had beautifully glazed skin which had a perfect brown sheen on it without being overly oily. The chicken itself had very succulent meat even for the breast meat parts which is usually dry for other stalls as the natural oils are locked in while cooking. The umami flavours explodes in your mouth the moment you bite into the chicken as the concentrated goodness of the sauce has permeated both the chicken and chicken skin. The sauce is more on the sweet side but you can taste the natural flavours of the soy sauce used when braising the chicken.
Something different about Ma Li Ya chicken rice is that they use the rice cooked with chicken oil like those used in Hainanese chicken rice stalls whereas most soy sauce chicken stalls use plain white rice. The fragrant rice surprisingly complements the soy sauce chicken extremely well.
Personally, I would say the mentor is very hard to surpass as I actually bought from the protégé stall for a comparison. While both are on similar taste notes, the Ma Li Ya version has deeper layers in terms of the flavour profiling of the sauce. I would say for those liking a sweet note to their soy sauce chicken, Ma Li Ya has one of the best ones if not the best in Singapore. For savoury note soy sauce chicken, I would say the original Chew Kee is the winner.
Side note: From other reviews, Maria’s soy braised tofu is out of this world but I have yet to try them so I am making a mental note to try them the next time.
Address: 335 Smith St, #02-189 Chinatown Complex, Singapore 050335
Operating hours: 9 am to 4 pm ( from 7 am on Sundays and closed on Mon and Fri)