Hainanese chicken rice
Hainanese chicken rice served at a food court in Singapore
|Alternative name(s)||Hainan chicken|
|Place of origin||Southeast Asia (Nanyang)|
|Region or state||Hainan, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand|
|Main ingredient(s)||Chicken, chicken bone stock, rice|
|Hainanese chicken rice|
|Literal meaning||Hainan chicken rice|
Hainanese chicken rice is a dish of Chinese origin, and is most commonly associated with Hainanese, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisines, although it is also commonly sold in Thailand. It is based on the well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken (文昌雞), due to its roots in Hainan cuisine and its adoption by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia). Hainanese chicken also appears as a speciality in Vietnamese cuisine.
The chicken is prepared in traditional Hainanese methods which involve steeping the entire chicken at sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock, reusing the broth over and over and only topping it up with water when needed, in accordance with the Chinese preferences for creating master stocks. This stock is not used for rice preparation, which instead involves chicken stock created specifically for that purpose, producing an oily, flavourful rice sometimes known as "oily rice" with Southeast Asian pandan leaves added sometimes. Some cooks may add coconut milk to the rice, reminiscent of the Malay dish nasi lemak.
The Hainanese prefer using older, plumper birds to maximise the amount of oil extracted, thus creating a more flavourful dish. Over time, however, the dish began adopting elements of Cantonese cooking styles, such as using younger birds to produce more tender meats. In another variation, the bird is dipped in ice after cooking to produce a jelly-like skin finishing, commonly referred to as Báijī (白雞) for "white chicken", in contrast to the more traditional Lǔjī (滷雞, stock chicken) or Shāojī (燒雞, roasted chicken). In Singapore, where modernity has made the maintenance and long-term storage of master stocks unfeasible, the meat is cooked by steeping in water flavoured with garlic and ginger instead, with the resulting stock used in the preparation of the rice and also in the accompanying soup.
They are authentically served in Singapore with a hot chilli sauce dip (made up of freshly minced red chilli and garlic). The dip is usually topped with dark soy sauce and a heap of freshly pounded ginger. Fresh cucumber in chicken broth and light soy sauce are served with the chicken.. They are now served mostly boneless in Singapore or Malaysia.
Regional variations 
In Malacca, the chicken rice is served as rice balls rather than a bowl of rice, commonly known as Chicken rice balls. Steamed rice is shaped into golf ball-sized orbs and served alongside the chopped chicken. This dish is eaten the same way as the regular version, making sure to get a portion of chicken, some rice and the soy and chili condiment into each mouthful. Older chefs argue that the rice was originally shaped into balls because it needed to be kept warm from the time it was cooked (often earlier in the day) until mealtime. The rice balls, when stored in wooden containers, apparently stayed warm for a longer time. The other theory is that the rice balls were more portable and were easier for labourers working on plantations to transport from home. Today, rice balls are appreciated more as a novelty than anything else.
The Ipoh bean sprout chicken rice (Ngah Choi Kai Fan) of Ipoh, Malaysia, is the Cantonese version with steamed chicken served with boiled bean sprouts but in white rice rather than the flavoured oil rice. This is a very popular version of the rice and many other chicken rice stall have slowly followed it by adding in bean sprouts along with the chicken. The chicken rice dish can also be further accompanied with a simple pork meatball soup. In addition to that, various hawkers also sell a variety of chicken innards - gizzard, liver, intestines - which are also equally popular for chicken rice lovers.
Chicken rice in Malaysia is available in many Chinese coffee shops or restaurants or street hawker stalls, but also chain restaurants such as The Chicken Rice Shop, KFC's Rasamas and famous Malaysia Chinatown's Nam Heong. Most chicken rice vendors in the country also offer an alternative of roasted chicken instead of the regular, steamed one. Other variations include a BBQ version or also a honey-roasted choice.
The Malaysian Malays (virtually all of them are Muslims) have learnt to make halal Hainan chicken rice. They have also modified the dish to suit the Malay liking for spicier and fried foods. The chicken is steamed and then fried or roasted to give a golden crispy chicken skin. However the frying of the chicken makes the meat drier. The chili condiment has also been modified. Less garlic and ginger are used, and tamarind juice is used to give the tang to the condiment. Chicken rice has become extremely popular among the Muslims in Malaysia such that certain food stalls can survive very well by serving only Chicken rice.
The prevalence of stalls selling Hainanese chicken rice as their primary specialty in Singapore underscores the dish's unrivalled popularity amongst Singaporeans and overseas visitors. Hainanese chicken rice is considered as one of the "national dish" of Singapore, and is often served at international expositions and global events abroad, and in Singaporean-run restaurants overseas. Hainanese chicken rice is also one of the few local dishes served on Singapore Airlines flights. It is listed at number 45 on World's 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011.
In Singapore, Hainanese chicken rice is served everywhere from school canteens, hawker stalls to major restaurants. . There are Hainanese chicken rice stalls that have established franchise or branch outlets, and these include Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice, Boon Tong Kee, Loy Kee, Wee Nam Kee and others which have many outlets island wide. It is very common to find Rice Balls in such chain eateries. The price range is around S$2.50-4.50 (the latter if the dish includes a drumstick). Most stalls serve extras such as braised dark soy hard boiled egg, chicken liver, braised dark soy firm tofu (Tau-kwa) and kai-lan with oyster sauce as side dishes and a bowl of plain chicken stock soup. The choice of white (steamed) or roasted chicken is commonly available at almost all eateries.
Hainanese-owned coffee shops tend to serve a variety of Hainanese cuisine, with chicken rice being the main highlight. Other Hainanese dishes include pork chop, vegetables, fish, eggs and char siew. Most of these shops are air-conditioned, and are mainly concentrated at Purvis Street and Seah Street. The dish was popularised in Singapore in the 1950s by Moh Lee Twee, whose Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant operated from 1947 to 1997.
Hainanese chicken rice is a common dish in Thailand where it is called khao man kai (Thai: ข้าวมันไก่), literally meaning 'oiled rice chicken'. The chickens used in Thailand for this dish can be free range chickens of local breeds, resulting in a leaner and tastier dish, but increasingly meat chickens from large scale poultry farms are being used. Khao man kai is served with a garnish of cucumbers and sometimes chicken blood tofu and fresh coriander, along with a bowl of clear chicken broth. The sauce accompanying this dish is made with tauchu (also known as yellow soybean paste), thick soy sauce, chilli, ginger, garlic and vinegar. In many of the more traditional khao man kai eateries, this dish will only be available from breakfast until lunchtime.
In the Philippines, Hainanese chicken rice is not only steamed but even fried served with sauce.
See also 
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- CNN Go World's 50 most delicious foods 21 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-11
- Wang Zhenchun (王振春). Hua Shuo Hainan Ren (话说海南人): Hainanese Coffeeshops (海南人的咖啡店). The Youth Book Co. Singapore. 2008. pp 25.
- Wang Zhenchun (王振春). Hua Shuo Hainan Ren (话说海南人): Mo Lu Rui Created The Mini Hainanese Chicken Rice Empire (莫履瑞创下海南鸡饭小王国). The Youth Book Co. Singapore. 2008. ISBN 978-981-08-1095-5. pp 82