To eat a Michelin-starred meal in Singapore, one of the most expensive places in the world, you’ll usually need a reservation and a week’s pay. For Chan Hon Meng’s soya sauce chicken rice, you’ll need $3. Do expect to stand in line for an hour or two, though.
The Malaysian-born chef dropped out of school at 15 to help his parents on their pig, duck, and vegetable farm. He decided he wanted to work in the kitchen in his 20s, and began training in Hong Kong. The techniques and recipes he learned there became the cornerstone of the food-court stall he opened with his wife, Irene, in Singapore in 2009.
Every day, he makes his secret Cantonese-style, soya sauce–based marinade from scratch (without divulging all of its ingredients, he concedes to adding Chinese angelica roots, cloves, coriander, and star anise). He marinates 180 chickens overnight before braising and hanging them in his stall-front before service opens. The accompanying rice is fried in chicken fat and boiled in chicken stock. While he sells char siew noodles, pork rib, and hor fun noodles, the chicken is his stall’s major draw.
When Michelin representatives phoned Meng in 2016, inviting him to the Michelin Guide Singapore Gala Dinner, he thought they were kidding. The representative insisted that the awards were selected based on food rather than venue. With that, Meng’s stall became the home of the world’s most affordable Michelin-starred meal.
In the year after earning his star, he opened a full restaurant in the mall next to the food court, as well as several others, as far away as Thailand and Taiwan, with plans slated for Melbourne, as well. While he has aspirations to sell his chicken around the world, he refuses to compromise on its accessibility and flavor, hoping each plate of chicken tastes exactly as it does in the original humble food court stall that won him culinary acclaim.