Walk into any coffee shop or hawker centre in Singapore, and chances are that you’ll find at least one stall selling duck rice and kway chap.
This ubiquity can be seen as both a good and bad thing — on one hand, Singaporeans can eat these classic dishes pretty much anytime they want, but the market has also become so saturated that it’s hard to tell one stall apart from another.
Melvin Chew of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap, however, has managed to find a way around that problem.
Old Recipe, New Look
Located on the second floor of Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Jin Ji has been operating since the building’s inception in 1983.
They weren’t always in the duck rice and kway chap business, though. Melvin’s parents originally ran a fruit stall, but his father made the switch when he realised that there were too many of those in the hawker centre. He learned the recipes from a family friend, and the rest is history.
Fast forward to 2014, and Melvin — who decided to take over the business after his father’s passing — was presented with the same problem, and started to think of ways to set Jin Ji apart from other duck rice and kway chap stalls.
“It’s useless for me to tell everybody that I have good food,” he said. “Everybody says that they have good food, so I had to do something to let people know that I have something special.”
Noticing that youngsters were gravitating towards Japanese food, Melvin came up with Duck Rice Bento, which is essentially his father’s classic duck rice recipe with an Instagrammable twist.
Presented on a stylish semicircular plate, the dish immediately looks more premium than those oval-shaped plates that you usually see at hawker centres (that option is available too, if you’re feeling a little more traditional).
Aesthetics can only get you so far, though, and thankfully the Duck Rice Bento delivers in the taste department as well. The duck is extremely tender and flavourful — not surprising, considering that the ducks are braised for an hour and cooked with 9 different herbs and spices — while the kway chap is so smooth that it practically melts in your mouth.
Melvin also incorporates bits of yam into his duck rice (rolled into balls for that #aesthetic, no less), and includes a perfectly-cooked ramen egg in the bento as well. These small, yet impactful changes add all kinds of different textures, resulting in a dish that’s unique in both looks and taste.
At $8 this certainly isn’t the cheapest hawker meal, but for the sheer amount of food you’re getting, I’d say it’s worth it. Melvin says that he’d usually charge more for the amount that he gives, and I was so full after eating it that I’m not going to dispute that claim.
Made With Love
If you’re looking for something completely different, you might want to try Jin Ji’s Duck Ramen instead.
While not as flashy as its bento counterpart, the dish is bursting with flavour thanks to the noodles being drenched in a generous amount of duck sauce. The sauce also gives the noodles a rather unique texture that feels both wet and dry at the same time.
For $5, this is a cheaper alternative that’s equally satisfying. For maximum satisfaction, I’d recommend adding the stall’s homemade chilli, which adds a kick of spiciness without going overboard.
If Melvin’s goal with his bento and ramen dishes was to set himself apart from other duck rice and kway chap stores, he’s undoubtedly succeeded (I’m not the only one who thinks so, considering that his customers base includes KF Seetoh, Jack Neo and the late Anthony Bourdain).
From my brief conversation with Melvin it’s clear that he’s passionate about his continuing what his parents started, and it shows through the effort he puts into his food. If you’re a fan of duck rice and/or kway chap, this is definitely worth heading down to Chinatown for.
Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap
Address: Chinatown Complex, Block 335 Smith Street #02-156, Singapore 050335
Opening Hours: 10:30am-6pm (Closed on Fridays)
(Header Image Source: Discover SG)