Lian He Ben Ji Claypot Rice (联合本记煲饭)

There’s nothing that warms the belly more than a steaming hot bowl of rice. That’s probably why I’ve learnt to associate claypot rice with nighttime fare. Try consuming it in the afternoon in our climate without disintegrating into a puddle of sweat… confirm heatstroke lor.

Claypot rice is, as its name suggests, rice cooked in a claypot. Well done, Captain Obvious. Due to its long preparation time, this dish belongs to a rarer breed of hawker food. A google search for claypot rice in Singapore churns out a few repeated names: Le Chasseur, Geylang Claypot Rice and of course, Lian He Ben Ji.

Simmering over charcoal fires.

The reason why Lian He Ben Ji‘s claypot rice is a cut above its competitors is precisely because it doesn’t compromise on cooking time and ingredient quality. Each pot of rice is steamed for 5 minutes, after which ingredients are added and the pot left to sit over a blazing charcoal flame for the next 20 minutes. That guarantees you a minimum 25-minute wait per order, which can stretch to a waiting time of 45 minutes during peak dining periods. To get around the wait, regular diners know to call to place their orders in advance. Unfortunately we weren’t as savvy.

Mixed claypot rice, $10 for a portion that feeds two.

Was the wait worth it? Abso friggin’ lutely.

After drizzling some sweet soya sauce over the rice and mixing everything together, the first spoonful of rice I had can only be described as a flavour explosion. The pieces of chicken were succulent, the lup cheong (Chinese sausages) and waxed meat firm and juicy, but the rice – the rice was in a realm of its own. You just have to taste it to know that charcoal makes one hell of a difference in cooking this dish. The rice in the claypot was smoky yet fluffy, and when drenched in sweet sauce was just… wow. We kept mumbling “so good, this is so good” in between mouthfuls of rice. It got even better when our spoons hit the bottom of the pot, where burnt rice, or what we call guo ba (锅巴), was clinging to the sides, just waiting to be scraped off.

And the chilli! The chilli here is the bomb okay. It was spicy, sour and caused beads of sweat to form on my temples, but I kept going back for more.

To be fair, the slivers of salted fish in the rice could have been less mushy. Plus the soup (lotus root with pork ribs) and stir-fried veggies we ordered were very average. But who really cares? It’s a hawker centre, and there’re about 50 other stalls if you must have your sides to complement this… claypot of perfection.

Busy busy night.

Now into its second generation of owners, Lian He Ben Ji is an established business that started off as a roadside stall in the same area back in 1979. The founder of the stall handed the reins over to his daughter-in-law, which I think is a really heartwarming tidbit of news in a society that unfortunately still tends toward the patriarchal. The daughter-in-law now runs the stall with her two younger sisters, which is why this place is also known fondly as “3 sisters’ claypot rice”.

Lian He Ben Ji gets my seal of approval for their dedication to their craft. I’ll definitely be recommending this place to everyone I know.

Lian He Ben Ji Claypot Rice (联合本记煲饭)
335 Smith Street
Chinatown Complex #02-198/199
Singapore 050335

Opening hours: 4.30 pm to 10.30 pm, closed Thursdays.
Tel. no.: 62272470

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