Hainanese chicken rice is a dish adapted from early Chinese immigrants originally from Hainan province in southern China. It is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore. Hainanese chicken rice is most commonly associated with Singaporean and Malaysian cuisines, although it is also popular in Thailand, where it is known as Khao Man Gai, and also in Vietnam and Indonesia. It is based on a well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken (文昌雞), due to its adoption by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia). Catherine Ling of CNN describes Hainanese chicken rice as one of the “40 Singapore foods we can’t live without”. It also listed at number 45 on World’s 50 most delicious foods compiled by CNN Go in 2011. In Malaysia, as in Singapore, chicken rice is available in many Chinese coffee shops, restaurants and street hawker stalls, and also in chain restaurants such as The Chicken Rice Shop and OldTown White Coffee.
The chicken is prepared in accordance with traditional Hainanese methods, which involve poaching the entire chicken at sub-boiling temperatures. The resulting stock is skimmed off and some of the fat and liquid, along with ginger, garlic (and in the case of Singaporean and Malaysian chicken rice, pandan leaves) is used in the cooking of the rice, producing an oily, flavourful rice sometimes known as “oily rice”.
The Hainanese prefer using older, plumper birds to maximise the amount of fat 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 Singapore and Malaysian chicken rice, the bird is dipped in ice after cooking to produce a jelly-like skin finishing, commonly referred to as báijī (白雞; “white chicken”), while Thai khao man gai notably omits this step. Chicken prepared by braising – lǔjī (滷雞; “stock chicken”) – or roasting – shāojī (燒雞; “roasted chicken”) – may also be used. Although the latter two are technically “chicken rice” as in rice served with chicken, Hainanese chicken rice is always poached, not braised or roasted.
In most countries, the dish is served with a dipping sauce of freshly minced red chilli and garlic, usually accompanied with dark soy sauce and freshly ground ginger. Fresh cucumber boiled in the chicken broth and light soy sauce with a dash of sesame oil are served with the chicken, which is usually served at room temperature. Many stalls, especially in Singapore or Malaysia, now offer deboned chicken.
The prevalence of stalls selling Hainanese chicken rice as their primary specialty in Singapore underscores the dish’s popularity amongst Singaporeans and overseas visitors. Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of the national dishes 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.
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 also called nasi ayam (not to be confused with nasi lemak); nasi means rice and ayam means chicken in Bahasa Malaysia.
Most chicken rice vendors in the country also offer an alternative of roasted chicken instead of the regular poached or steamed chicken. Other variations include a BBQ version or also a honey-roasted choice.
Some restaurants offer Guangxi style white cut chicken (Chinese: 广西白切鸡) as part of the chicken rice experience. An important heritage dish for Malaysian Chinese descended from immigrants from Guangxi province, it is always served during festive or special occasions. The chicken is drenched prior to serving with nam, a sauce prepared with chopped garlic chives, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce.
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.
Bean sprouts chicken (ngah choi kai) of Ipoh, Malaysia, is a related dish. The chicken is served with blanched bean sprouts and white rice instead of seasoned 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, or nasi ayam, is also very popular with the Malay community, with the dish adapted to suit the Malay liking for spicier and more robustly flavoured food. The chicken is steamed, and then fried or roasted, although this usually result in a drier texture for the chicken meat. The chili condiment has also been modified: less garlic and ginger are used, and tamarind juice is added to the condiment for a tangier taste. 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.
Hainanese chicken rice is a common dish in Thailand where it is called khao man kai (Thai: ข้าวมันไก่), literally meaning “chicken-oil rice”. 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 occasionally chicken blood tofu and fresh coriander, along with a bowl of nam sup, a clear chicken broth which often contains sliced daikon. The accompanying sauce is most often made with tauchu (also known as yellow soybean paste), thick soy sauce, chilli, ginger, garlic and vinegar.
One famous Bangkok neighborhood for Khao man kai is Pratunam in Ratchathewi district, located near to Platinum Fashion Mall, CentralWorld and Ratchaprasong Intersection. Several restaurants in Pratunam received Bib Gourmand awards from the 2018 Michelin Guide. It has been reported that these restaurants are especially popular amongst Hong Kong, Japanese and Taiwanese tourists. Khao man kai is also well known in other areas, including Bang Sue, Talat Phlu, Yaowarat and Phasi Charoen near Bang Wa BTS station and Phyathai 3 Hospital including various places viz Thanon Tok near Rama III Bridge, Thong Lor on Sukhumvit Road, Wat Suthiwararam School, Yan Nawa, Bang Kapi, Wat Saket and Saphan Kwai neighborhoods etc.
The dish is called Nasi Hainam in Indonesia. It is mostly sold in locations with residents of Chinese descent, and the topping usually contains pork in addition to the chicken
Hainanese chicken rice is called bay moan (khmer : បាយមាន់) in Cambodia. It is served with a sweet sauce composed of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, lime, shallots and chili.
Hainanese chicken rice is called CƠM GÀ HẢI NAM.
- 1 whole chicken (about 1.5 kg), at room temperature
- 5 whole cloves garlic, plus 2 cloves, chopped
- 7 thick slices ginger, unpeeled
- 3 nos pandan leaves
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 675 gr jasmine rice
- 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- Coriander, sliced cucumber and spring onion, watercress to serve
* Chilli sauce:
- 6 red bird’s eye chillies (bird chile)
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
- 1 tsp lime juice
* For Spring onion and ginger oil:
- 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp grated ginger (or Minced ginger)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
- 3 tbsp peanut oil
* For soy sauce:
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- Trim any visible fat from the chicken. Roughly chop the fat and put in a small saucepan. Cook over very low heat for about 1 hour until the liquid fat renders away. Pour off and keep the liquid fat as it pools.
- Meanwhile, put the whole garlic cloves and 5 slices of ginger in the cavity of the chicken and place breast-side down in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to just below a simmer. The water should be steaming well, but not bubbling. Keep the heat at this stage for 20 minutes, then cover the pot and turn off the heat. Leave for 30 minutes, then lift out the chicken, keeping the poaching stock. Brush the chicken skin with sesame oil and wrap with plastic wrap. The chicken should be cooked very lightly, pink inside the bones and with a gelatinous skin.
- Heat 1 tbsp of the chicken fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and remaining 2 slices of ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the rice, pandan leaves (tied in a knot) and toss until well coated and turning opaque. Add 1.25 liters of the reserved chicken stock, the salt. Cook in a rice cooker or by your preferred method of cooking rice.
- Making dips:
- To make the chilli sauce: Combine chillies, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt in a mortar and pound to a paste. Add the lemon juice and 1-2 tablespoons of hot chicken stock and pound again. Set aside.
- To make the spring onion and ginger oil: Add the spring onion, ginger and salt to a heatproof mortar and pound lightly with the pestle. Heat the oil in a small frying pan until smoking and pour onto the mixture. Once the sizzling stops, combine lightly with the pestle and leave to infuse for a few minutes.
- To make the soy sauce: Mix the sesame oil and soy sauce with 60 ml of the chicken stock. If you have any remaining chicken stock after that, you can season it and add a few onion slices. This can be served as a light broth to accompany the meal.
- Chop the chicken in Chinese-style and dress the soy sauce over it. Garnish with a little coriander and serve with the rice, condiments, hot chicken broth with watercress and some steamed green vegetables (optional).