I love chicken rice. Thankfully, this is a country where the love often goes requited and I usually go away from a meal happy and satiated for a day or two. (However, avoid, or patronise at your own peril, the chicken rice stalls located at MRT stations.)
Yet Con is located in a shophouse along Purvis Street, in what I call the chicken-rice belt in Bugis. There are several other eating houses in the area offering similar fare; Chin Chin Hainanese Chicken Rice is right opposite and Sin Swee Kee is on Seah Street.
At mealtimes, the queue at Yet Con spills out into the walkway. It starts just past the edge of the first table in the restaurant, past the front of the restaurant where the main chicken chopping action happens, and continues to an uncomfortable squeeze at the door – a situation often complicated by people exiting the restaurant or latecomers to their dinner party. Patrons, or soon-to-be patrons, make the difficult decision between continuing to queue in the air-conditioned restaurant or choosing the less cramped but usually warm walkway to await their turn to dine.
When you finally reach the head of the line, be prepared to call out for how many you would like a table for. Gesturing works too, but when an auntie calls out to you the way the ones here do, it is best to reciprocate in kind. You will be happy to find that most of the aunties who work here, while armed with loud pipes and little patience for indecision, are awesome at their jobs (instead, beware those who speak nicely and come back thrice to confirm orders). Tables are delegated promptly, orders are taken fast, and sauce bottles are whisked away to another table as soon as they see that you’re done with filling up your saucers.
Food comes quickly; within five minutes of placing our order, our dishes appear – a plate of their signature Hainanese chicken, a “small” portion of chicken liver and stir-fried cai xin. And well, good food sometimes comes un-photogenic.
What presentation? One can almost eat the nonchalance right off those plates. But who cares about presentation, when the food is good? The chicken, while served without the usual concoction of soy sauce and sesame oil, is tender and juicy. The rice is fragrant and flavourful.
My mum would approve of those vegetables – 火候足. I have little praise for the chicken liver; a liver served on a plate is still a liver. I would have preferred a prettier “cut” though.
The old man with the abacus is the last stop of your Yet Con experience. He who obviously holds the fort in this place. He who does sums off handwritten order chits faster than you can on a calculator and bad memory. In the event that there is no written slip (alas, soft-spoken wait staff!), he will head to your table, take a look at your empty plates and, with his decades of experience with forgetful wait staff, declare a sum.
You can go to places with better food, greater service. But I like Yet Con, with its loud people, its snobbish unpretentiousness (if that combination is possible), its rush and bustle, and for it being a throwback to earlier times where the vintage isn’t bought, waitresses yell across the floor at one another, and the cashier is an abacus-wielding dude.