Lou Hoffman, CEO, The Hoffman Agency

Having called this blog “Chicken Rice of the Soul,” we have a certain obligation to cover the news that the Singaporean hawker stand, “Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle”— obviously didn’t hire a branding expert to create the name — earned a Michelin star.

When Chef Chan Hon Meng received a notice from Michelin, he asked a simple question, “Are you joking?” He didn’t know that a hawker stand could even be nominated. A Michelin representative assured him, yes, it was possible, and yes, he had won the award.

As for the tie to the Agency and its 20 years in Asia with this news, it’s absolutely there.

As noted in the headline, our team in Singapore works a mere .1 mile from Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chick Rice and Noodle. I believe that I’m on safe ground in saying that every staff member in our Singapore office over the past 20 years has enjoyed a meal at a hawker stand. Just last week Singapore Office GM Shawn Balakrishnan led a contingent to “Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle” for lunch. The wait doesn’t seem as long when captured as a time-lapse video


You can see that Chef Chan Hon Meng pays attention to the details, including how the food is plated for serving.

Two plates of chicken rice

My own personal encounter with chicken rice and hawker stands goes back to my first trip to Singapore in 1994. It was beyond comprehension that food this good could be had for what at the time was less than a U.S. dollar. From that point forward, trips to Singapore included the requisite stop at a hawker stand for chicken rice.

Sometime in the late ’90s after consuming enough chicken rice meals from hawker stands to take on the moniker “chicken rice snob” — “the chili sauce seems a tad diluted” — I mentioned to Maureen Tseng that I wish I could start a chicken rice hawker stand in Silicon Valley. Food that awakened every taste bud AND qualified as healthy was nothing short of a miracle to which Maureen responded, “Huh?”

After repeating my hallelujah, she said that she hated to be the one to deflate my thesis, but had to ask if I knew how the rice became so delicious. She went on to explain that the secret to the flavor of the rice was boiling it in a concoction based on chicken fat.

I see. So that’s how they do it.

I still like chicken rice. I still periodically eat it during stays in Singapore. But I’ve never been able to look at the dish with quite the same enthusiasm.

Fortunately for Chef Chan Hon Meng, I’m an outlier as illustrated by the queues in front his stand that can extend over two hours.

The man has worked 17-hour days for years — and you thought PR was a demanding business — honing his craft. That’s what it takes to win a Michelin star. I have to also say that there’s something old-school cool about a cleaver.

Man cooking chicken rice

As he shared during the Michelin awards ceremony, “I want to have more cuisine from Singapore and more of the undiscovered local hawker talent … I dream that our food can be enjoyed on an international stage.”


It sounds like he needs a communications strategy.

For more on Chan Hon Meng and his back stories, check out this video.