ALLSTON - Throw a rock and you’re likely to hit any number of regional Asian cooking styles in the greater Boston area. There was a time when Chinatown itself offered only two choices to diners: Cantonese or dim sum. That’s changed over the past twenty years, and even the likes of Waltham can lay claim to the best lu rou fan you’re likely to find in a thirty-mile radius. Hell, even the suburbs of New Hampshire can provide you with no small number of Tibetan options—and while I’ve never been to Nepal, something tells me NASCAR fanaticism and vanity license plates aren’t exactly going to be well represented.
Greater Boston’s been home to one of the largest populations of Singaporeans on the East Coast since the 1980s. Yet Singaporean culture is significantly absent in the city. Food may not be the sole barometer of a cultural presence, but it’s one of the more visible; and the closest you’re going to find to Singaporean cuisine is the venerable Penang, which has been serving Chinatown residents and visitors with Malaysian specialties for almost a quarter of a century.
That’s not a bad run, especially in the face of increasing economic displacement in Chinatown. But despite the geographic proximity, Malaysia isn’t Singapore. And I’ll be the first to admit my familiarity with the latter’s food culture is virtually nil precisely because of its absence in the local culinary ecosystem. There might be a world of difference between the two, but with only 200 odd miles of water separating the two, I’m willing to hedge my bets it’s not a particularly drastic one.
Then again, maybe not. There’s only a 300-mile distance between New Jersey and Boston, but the difference in food culture is distinct. Can you find an authentic sausage roll in Boston? Not any more than you can find tolerable clam chowder in Matawan. There’s only a 5-mile distance between Washington Street and lower Allston but the difference is even more pronounced. And if there’s a fundamental difference between Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, you might be able to tell when Chic Chick opens on Brighton Avenue in the next few weeks.
Street food in 2020 may be an overwrought moniker applied to everything from a food truck to high-end food hall offerings. And that’s chiefly because not one single person can agree on what constitutes authenticity in 2020. I may not be certain what street Marc Orfay lives on, but it ain’t mine. But if it’s a gimmick in Boston, it’s a dominant force in Singapore, where some 6,000 independent vendors operate food stalls in over 100 open-air spaces daily. And one of the national specialties is chicken rice. No, not the aluminum pie pans full of customized fillings from the eponymously named yellow food truck guys. Hainanese chicken rice is typified by the fact that it’s poached slowly over several hours in its own fat prior to being hung to dry, with rice being cooked in the remaining aromatic stock. The result is a dish that draws as much controversy over its country of origin as it does the proper cooking techniques.
It’s also the signature dish behind Chic Chick, which is scheduled to open in the former space of Iron Kitchen later this month.
“The goal was to bring delicious Singaporean food to the Boston area, so people can experience the wonderful taste of this local Hainan food,” the restaurant told Eater earlier this week. “People are becoming much more conscious of eating healthy and want dishes with less oil and more fresh ingredients.”
Keeping track of your math yet? Good. Hainan is approximately 1400 miles from Singapore. Singapore is approximately 9800 miles from Matawan, New Jersey. Now, divide the remainder by the approximate distance between Hanover, New Hampshire and…
Chic Chick will be located at 164 Brighton Ave in Allston and is scheduled to open during the third week of March. For more information, follow them on Instagram.
Image via Wikimedia Commons