One of my philosophies in life is this: focus on one thing, and do it better than anyone else can.
And if there’s a restaurant that also lives by this philosophy, it would be Ji Fan Lah.
Let me be honest with you. It’s been a long time since I cried over how good a meal was. The last time was when I ate Margherita pizza in Naples, Italy five years ago. But then, in the middle of eating Ji Fan Lah’s Regular Chicken Rice Set (P99), I could swear I cried a little bit. At last, I’ve found a chicken rice meal that beats the ones you can get from our local Wee Nam Kee and Boon Tong Kee. It’s also way cheaper than the chicken from Tao Yuan, and includes a much larger serving.
Before I start fawning like a deranged fangirl, let’s discuss what I look for in Hainanese Chicken Rice. First, the chicken. The skin should have a slightly jelly-like texture from poaching, while the meat should stay succulent and juicy all throughout, especially the white meat. It should be served at room temperature, not noticeably chilled and also not hot. Ji Fan Lah gets a perfect score in all these categories.
Second, as everyone who loves Hainanese Chicken Rice says, “the rice should be good enough to eat on its own.” Chicken rice is normally cooked in chicken stock, along with ginger and garlic. The result should be soft, fluffy, and slightly oily rice that’s teeming with the essence of chicken, with a gingery kick at the end. And I can safely say, even when eaten together with the chicken and the three signature sauces (which I’ll talk about later), the flavor of the chicken rice still stands out. That’s more than I can say about Ji Fan Lah’s competitors.
Third, the broth. A Hainanese Chicken Rice set isn’t complete without a bowl of chicken stock. Ji Fan Lah’s version is sufficiently flavorful, albeit on the salty side, but overall a nice complement to the entire meal.
Lastly, the sauces. Chicken Rice is normally served with three signature condiments: freshly ground ginger, dark soy sauce, and chili-garlic sauce. At Ji Fan Lah, you can use as much of these condiments as you want. I particularly enjoyed the ginger, which has a strong but pleasant flavor and a mild kick. Meanwhile, the thick, salty-sweet dark soy sauce is imported from Singapore, and is much better than our local light soy sauce versions. Finally, the chili-garlic sauce, despite lacking a nice punch, added a nice touch to the entire meal.
All of these elements came together to bring me one of the best chicken rice meals I’ve had in a long time.
Ji Fan Lah’s menu only contains a few variations of their signature poached white chicken. If you’re in for a quick, cheap, but satisfying meal, go for the Regular Set. Add Kaya Toast (P45) on the side, if you’re feeling particularly ravenous. The Kaya (coconut jam) is proudly homemade and has the sweet, comforting taste you’d expect from this Singaporean breakfast staple. If you’re dining with a friend, get the half or whole chicken and then order extra Hainanese Rice (P30).
Once you’ve tried these, I suggest you go for the Hainanese Chicken Curry Noodles (P140), which is a mildly spicy and creamy curry noodle soup that can provide ample comfort on particularly cold days. I’ve suggested that the staff should try to improve the texture of the noodles, which were limp and not entirely appetizing. I’ve also asked them to give diners an option to customize the spice levels to their liking. To be fair, this dish is only a few weeks old, and still has a few ways to go.
Ji Fan Lah is a young concept, but I can already see the long lines that will form in front of the shop every time it opens. The best time to go is around 12 noon, when the chicken is freshly poached and the rice is freshly cooked. I’ve also heard that the restaurant sometimes goes out of stock in the afternoon, so it’s really best to go exactly when the doors open.
I only hope that Ji Fan Lah continues to play to its strengths by keeping the price point low, focusing on the quality of the chicken rice meals, and having attentive, friendly service. Its true test is yet to come: when it’s filled to the brim with hungry, curious diners, I’m excited to see how it’ll handle the large crowds. I hope, that with a bit of luck from the chicken rice gods, they handle everything with finesse.
Ji Fan Lah is located at 150 Mayon Avenue, Sta. Teresita, 1114 Quezon City, Philippines. The area is close to Welcome Rotonda as well as the Banawe district.
Fun Fact 1: Ji Fan Lah’s space was once a salon that was converted into a restaurant in less than a month. The owners originally wanted to rent a space in Boracay, but settled on this tiny but efficient space instead. Parking is limited, so it’s best to commute or use Uber when going here.
Fun Fact 2: The owners are Filipino, and they got the recipe for Chicken rice from a Singaporean chef.
Fun Fact 3: Ji Fan Lah gives you a loyalty card that you can use to get freebies on your next visits.