The History of Hainan Chicken and Rice

Whether it’s the tender slice of meat, the irresistible aroma of rice, or the flavorful play of sauces and side dishes, nothing beats a whole delectable plate of Hainanese chicken rice.

Hainanese chicken rice, or simply chicken rice, is one of Singapore’s most popular national dishes. Others even call it THE national dish of the country. In 2011, it was featured in the “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods” by CNN, placing at 45 on the list.

Today, restaurants serving variations of the recipe are all over the world, but the formula of steamed chicken + fragrant oily rice + sliced cucumber remains classic. Don’t forget the iconic blend of soy sauce, chili, garlic and ginger as complementary seasoning and you’re good to go.

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Hainanese chicken rice simply is delicious. But just how did it come about?

secretstan / Instagram
secretstan / Instagram

When early immigrants from Hainan, the smallest and southernmost province of China, came to Singapore, they brought with them a dish made from Wenchang chicken. This bony fowl with very little flesh was unique to the province. It was served with green chili, according to Goody Feed.

Singaporeans eventually adopted the dish, but made key differences in its preparation. Hainanese people originally preferred older birds and used pork-bone and chicken-bone stock. Singaporeans, on the other hand, avoided the pork base.

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foodiipedia / Instagram
foodiipedia / Instagram

Cantonese cooking also influenced the evolution of the chicken rice. They are known for a dish called pak cham kai (white cut chicken), which uses young and tender-fleshed birds. Soon, the Hainanese started using similar birds to prepare chicken rice. Lime was also added in the sauce.

Today, chicken rice offered in many Singaporean establishments fuses the original Hainanese recipe and the Cantonese way of cooking. The chicken, blanched or steeped in boiling water until cooked, is soaked in cold water to ensure its tenderness. Alternatively, it may be braised or roasted.

The rice is cooked in the stock used to boil the chicken, which may be infused with ginger or pandan leaves. The best rice retains the right amount of oiliness that perfectly complements the tender meat.

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Finally, the sauce, which consists of dark soy sauce, red chili, garlic and occasionally ginger, and side vegetables, complete the dish. Some restaurants serve other seasonings and side food for more variety.

itshuisan / Instagram
itshuisan / Instagram

Hainanese chicken rice is usually served in several plates: one for the meat, one for a serving of rice and one for the sauce.

How do you like your chicken rice?

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