Frequent travelers who pass through Asia often have plans to stop at Tim Ho Wan, a Hong Kong dim sum restaurant that specializes in baked pork dumplings known as cha siu bao. Tim Ho Wan received a prized Michelin star — and lots of attention — in 2009 and has been known as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. For a few dollars you can eat at one of several locations, including the basement of the Hong Kong Airport Express station in Central. There’s even reports that they’ll be opening an outlet in New York.
Now there’s a new reigning champion. The Michelin judges recently awarded a star to Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. Despite the name it’s actually a restaurant in one of Singapore’s famous hawker markets. Since a plate of chicken rice costs under $2, I’m thinking this probably replaces Tim Ho Wan as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. (Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle on Singapore’s North Bridge Road also received a Michelin star, though I think it’s a little more expensive.)
Lines are reported to be outrageously long since the news broke. Singapore has several hawker markets, which were set up by the government to move food vendors off the street. This particular one is the immense Chinatown Complex hawker market located behind the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is not the more famous Maxwell Food Centre across the street, where celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was noted for visiting Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.
As you can probably tell there are a lot of small vendors who compete to sell very similar meals. I remember a 30-minute wait the last time I went to Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice just because of the publicity. It was average, and Bourdain gets a lot of flack in online reviews. I actually don’t like the Maxwell Food Centre much at all and prefer to go to the Changi Village Hawker Centre.
I’ll probably plan to visit Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle anyway on my next trip to the city later this month. Gotta see what the commotion is about. But if you’re like me and not usually willing to wait hours for a $2 meal, know that there are lots of places where you can get good chicken rice and good food in general. There are usually two or three vendors at every hawker market selling the same dish, and locals know which ones are best. A 15-minute line is more typical and worth the wait.