No other animal has had quite as many comparisons drawn to its meat. Alligator? Tastes like chicken. Frog? Snake? Still chicken. Turtle? You guessed it – chicken. In comparison, despite also being a popular poultry product, duck receives none of the prestige. I am not ashamed to declare myself a non-duck rice enthusiast.
But a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient? Cheok Kee Boneless Braised Duck elicited a different response. It was time to have a quack at quite possibly the best duck rice stall around with its over 30 years of experience.
So in the twilight hours between lunch and dinner, I made a stopover at Geylang Bahru Market & Food Centre.
Since a queue had already formed by then, we went in search of a table and drinks thinking the line would simply peter out.
Such naivety was punished when I returned minutes later to see that the very opposite had occurred. What had initially sounded like an exaggeration in reviews turned out to be true. Hopefully, the praises sung about the duck rice were also spot on.
The stall Auntie has built a nasty reputation for herself over the years with many making references to her unfriendly demeanour. To ensure my order went by without a hitch, I had both cash and a digital payment app already open as contingency. The interaction was abrasive but it wasn’t hard to see she was just trying her darnedest to cut down waiting time for the queue. ‘Impatient’ would be more accurate.
Behind their glass display and obscured by a dizzying number of awards and articles was an enormous mound of ducks, no doubt a necessary quantity to feed the constant flow of patrons.
What I tried at Cheok Kee Boneless Braised Duck
Rice (S$0.50) is not included in the 1-person set (S$4.50), and I made an additional order of Duck Gizzard (S$1) and Duck Liver (S$1) which brought the total cost to S$7. The portion size looked to be just enough for an average eater.
I was there to watch the auntie transfer freshly cooked rice from a massive cooker to an equally gigantic rice bucket. The steamy spectacle had me expecting the grains to be incredibly soft but they turned out to be at a decent equilibrium. Dipping my head was enough for an efficacious dose of mouth-watering aroma.
Like a massive field battery, the platter of duck meat had its own regiment of supporting gizzard and liver slices on the side. A shallow pool of braised gravy occupied its undercarriage, denoting a generous drizzle.
Since I rarely have gizzard, its muted purple caught my attention first. As the ‘second stomach’, it serves a similar function to teeth by breaking down hard items like seeds or non-edibles that wind up in a duck’s digestive tract. Its makeup of mostly contractile tissue makes it typically tougher than the other cuts. And it was tough with a bit of spring, putting up quite a bit of resistance against my small teeth.
Subsequent chews returned a doughier texture with the slice losing firmness over time. While I did not find the experience unpleasant, no more made it onto my spoon.
On to familiar territory – the undeniably juicier slices of duck meat. These had an easier time absorbing the gravy for an added ‘mmm’ factor. I suppose where duck meat distances itself from chicken is the olfactory feedback – the former possessing a slightly gamier scent. The gravy added its savoury soy sauce profile to the relative flatness of the meat, tacking on a mild sweetness at the end.
Its skin somehow retained the faintest of crisp despite the torrent of gravy it had been subjected to. It made a killer complement alongside the meat, with relative toughness making up for volume.
The duck liver’s initial firmness gave way to a smooth mouthfeel checkered with the occasional chalkiness.
2 sauces are provided at Cheok Kee Boneless Braised Duck and I opted to have both. The liver is taken up a notch by the thicker sambal‘s savoury kick and its grittiness, imbuing additional depth.
The (Thai?) chilli sauce on the other hand worked marvellously at throwing sweetness into the mix. While the gravy’s toned flavours did complement the meat, a cacophonous blend of sweet, savoury and spicy now and then makes for a pleasant mouthful.
The soup was surprisingly a standout of its own. I’m always taken by surprise whenever these almost clear concoctions spring a multitudinously diverse scent as I take unassuming sips to douse the flames. I actually slowed my furious pace to enjoy its soothing, delicate effect.
Truth be told, I had to remind myself this was in fact a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient at the end of the meal. Deferring to my friend who was more of a duck rice connoisseur, I found that even he felt that nothing in particular had stood out as staggeringly impressive. I would say we came into this with overly high expectations.
Ultimately, the meal at Cheok Kee Boneless Braised Duck was inoffensive and had all the makings of a decent plate of duck rice. What really brought the heat (and literally) were the sauces, so I would recommend scooping those as well. It’s unlikely I would return to try this again but I do appreciate that prices have, at least at first glance, been unchanged since their Bib Gourmand rating this year.