If there’s one thing Singaporeans can be proud of, it’s our hawker culture. One of the reasons that we were able to grow from a small resource-starved island to a bustling metropolitan is thanks to decades of passionate hawkers feeding us wallet-friendly and easily accessible meals. It’s no wonder our hawker culture has been recognised by UNESCO on its list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It’s literally the lifeblood that drove Singapore. Alas, after six decades many of our heritage foods are sadly dying off—one of them is the chee pow kai you can get at Union Paper Wrapped Chicken.
If you’re alien to this remarkably old-school dish, Union Paper Wrapped Chicken is known for having served their signature chee pow kai for over six decades in Clementi. Originally located in a small plot of land beside SIM, they relocated to their current Jurong East outlet a few years back when their lease lapsed.
Don’t be fooled though; while their quaint home in the Yuhua neighbourhood may look deceivingly quiet even on weekends, their chee pow kai is normally snapped up by regulars from all over Singapore by pre-order. You can head down at 11.30am when they are supposed to open for business and still miss out on your chance to grab a single piece of their coveted chicken.
What I tried
Having missed out on getting my grubby hands on the hotly-contested chee pow kai once, I made sure to call in days prior to my visit to Union Paper Wrapped Chicken. It’s a snap—just tell them your name, order, and collection time and just head down to haul your loot on the day itself.
Naturally, don’t have to say what I got—it’s their namesake Paper Wrapped Chicken. They aren’t exactly cheap, they go for S$10 for five pieces, S$20 for 10 pieces, S$38 for 20 pieces, and S$75 for 40 pieces.
Union Paper Wrapped Chicken’s creations require a lot of work. They are bathed in a secret marinade for two days before everything is sealed up into paper parchments, then tossed into scalding hot oil a la minute so that every ounce of marinade flavour is freshly and thoroughly sealed into the meat.
These flavour-loaded packages are then fished out and brought to your table, looking all dark coloured and greased up. But don’t let their admittedly dreary facade fool you—it’s worth the trouble to unwrap.
Once you unrobe the chee pow kai you will clearly see how (and why) Union Paper Wrapped Chicken has kept its loyal, faithful regulars for more than six decades. While not the flashiest of dishes, it’s evident how juicy each piece of chicken is just by looking at them.
Sure they aren’t the biggest chunks of meat but I think these morsels of chicken might be the most tender pieces of meat I’ve had this year, perhaps even trumping over some swanky top-rated restaurants’ chicken dishes. My first bite had me exclaiming “Oh, shit!”
Genuinely, it’s unbelievably tender and the flavours are tightly absorbed by each luscious medallion of meat. The flavours are hit or miss though—while I enjoyed it, for the most part, I did find it slightly too sweet though a gentle whisper of ginger did help cushion some of the strong flavours and prevented it from being too cloying.
That is until we tried out unravelling their paper wrapped chicken, as Union’s boss suggested, over their signature Egg Noddles (S$3/S$8). Primarily drowned in fragrant oyster sauce, the noodles were crunchy but slightly too greasy on their own.
But pairing it with the sweet chicken added another dimension of flavour to the humble plate of yellow noodles, making it a much more delectable slurp with a good amount of complexity. That said, I still found it moderately greasy, though the introduction of the chicken juices helped to add some smoothness to the texture.
On a side note, I was rather nonplussed by their chilli. Even though chilli is generally seen as a crucial component to most Singaporean hawker dishes, Union Paper Wrapped Chicken’s concoction sported a sweet and gentle heat that did accentuate certain elements of the chee pow kai’s flavour profile but didn’t really add much in the way of building layers over the hearty base profile.
I was heartened to have finally gotten a bite of these pieces of Singapore hawker heritage, having heard of the legend of Union Paper Wrapped Chicken for years but missing the call to get a taste of the chee pow kai at their former iconic kampong-esque home.
If you’re a sucker for Singapore’s hawker food and want to explore every nook and cranny of our hawker heritage before they go extinct, it’s imperative you head down for this impossibly tender chee pow kai that’s the last of its kind in Singapore.
Call +65 8282 8806 to pre-order.
Expected damage: S$10 – S$15 per pax
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