Ever since its inception in 1949, Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant was a household name. Ruling the chicken rice world, this shop became so legendary that even well-known culinary icon Violet Oon said that Swee Kee’s chicken rice was “unanimously agreed” to be Singapore’s best in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
In 1997, Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant closed and never reopened again. While there have been a resurgence of shops claiming to have some connection to Swee Kee (be it an ex-chef or relative), there’s a new contender that might just knock the rest out of the park— Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice & Curry Chicken Noodle.
Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice is run by brother-and-sister Jass Lee, 48, and Joseph Tan, 55.
How are they related to the original owner of Swee Kee? He was their 表舅, aka an uncle on their grandmother’s side of the family, though I gather the actual family tree might be more convoluted than that.
When Jass was in her early 20s, she approached Swee Kee to learn how to make chicken rice. After working for him for about 10 years, she got married and returned to Malaysia.
It was only after a tragic car accident in 2019 that Jass returned to Singapore for surgery, which resulted in the loss of her left leg. It was also then that Covid-19 struck, and Jass found herself stuck in Singapore.
“That’s when I spoke to Joseph and said that we should start selling chicken rice,” Jass shared in Mandarin. “It might be inconvenient for me to move around due to my disability, so Joseph will be here to handle the shop for the whole day, while I handle the prep work and help out during peak hour.”
And thus, Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice & Curry Chicken Noodles was born. It officially opened on 10 Feb 2023 and is located at 93 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh Market & Food Centre.
A fun fact for those with eagle eyes: Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice’s name in Mandarin is the same as Swee Kee – 瑞記.
What I tried at Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice & Curry Chicken Noodle
When we asked if the recipe at Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice was identical to the one served at Swee Kee, Jass replied: “The recipe for the chicken is the same. The chilli is also the same, but we blended it to make it more smooth.”
As we were dining in a group, we decided to get the Half Chicken (S$13), but patrons dining alone should definitely go for the singular plate of Chicken Rice (S$3.50).
Note that the S$3.50 plate of Chicken Rice comes with breast meat. Those opting for thigh meat will have to pay S$4, and if you’re going for the drumstick, it’ll be S$4.50.
I loved everything about the chicken from Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice.
Each morsel of flesh— even those that came with bone— was incredibly tender, and the chicken skin was so gelatinous that it kept sliding off my spoon. Its texture was so perfect, and I found myself wondering how in the world Jass and Joseph managed to create such soft chicken meat while retaining its moisture.
My dining companion and I found ourselves continuously going back for more, and here’s the best part: even when paired with the delectable soy sauce for that extra sweet saltiness, we never found ourselves thirsty.
The chilli was bright and lethal, instantly waking my tastebuds up in a flash. It was most definitely spicier than it looked, but so addictive that I kept dunking my silky chicken slices in it. I also loved the overwhelming taste of ginger and lime, which added a zesty tartness to every bite.
Jass and Joseph must’ve cooked the rice with chicken broth, because every grain of rice had an aromatic yet subtle taste of chicken. Fragrant with hints of pandan, ginger and sesame oil, Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice nailed the rice down to a tee.
The soup here is free-flow— simply help yourself to the large steel dispenser at their storefront.
This must’ve been the poaching broth that they cooked the chicken in, because this soup was essentially incredibly light chicken broth. If I closed my eyes, I could taste the subtle sweetness from the chicken meat, bones and skin.
This was pure chicken broth, albeit on the lighter side, with no hint of MSG.
Fancy accompanying your chicken rice meal with some vegetables?
Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice sells Oyster Vegetables (S$2) and Beansprouts (S$2), and while these side dishes are pretty nondescript, I loved how generous Jass and Joseph were with the portions. Both also came accompanied with a good amount of shallots for that added fragrance and flavour.
What Traditional Rui Ji Chicken Rice served was an incredibly classic plate of chicken rice that I fell in love with from the very first bite. Even as I’m writing this, I’m still dreaming of the lusciously soft and moist chicken meat, the bright and spicy chilli, and the aromatic rice.
What’s even more amazing is how the pair of siblings overcame so many obstacles to be able to continue the legacy of Swee Kee— not only did Jass suffer a car accident and lose her left leg, she underwent multiple surgeries for other health issues too.
And yet, despite all that life has thrown at them, both Jass and Joseph have hearts of gold— they tell me that they intend to expand and hire disabled staff. On a weekly basis, they give out free packets of chicken rice to old folks homes, orphanages and lower-income families in the Toa Payoh area.
This is one chicken rice legacy that I’ll definitely come back to patronise— if not for the amazing chicken rice, then to support Jass and Joseph, whose strong wills and kind hearts have truly won me over.
Expected damage: S$3.50 – S$10 per pax
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