ONLY two days ago we have Chicken Rice for our dinner. It was nice and yummy but it is the Malay version the famous Hainanese Chicken Rice. While the kids were happy tucking in, I was one of those who was crazy about the authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice, hence I opted for Soto Ayam instead. It was a delicious broth or soup some may call it and it comprised chicken stock (and cuts) mixed with other condiments such as diced rice cakes (Nasi Impit), peanuts and noodles.
But I am here to talk about Hainese Chicken Rice. If Yee Sang was my annual love affair with Chinese cuisine, Hainanese chicken rice is another scrumptious food that I am in love with.
To get the authentic halal Hainanese chicken rice in a big city like Kuala Lumpur wasn’t a problem.
But it is a problem once I moved back to my home town. Hence, I have to settle for the Malay version of Hainanese Chicken Rice and honesrly it is not really my thing.
But I have to admit that my mom’s version is much nicer than the one that I got from normal Malay eateries sprouting in my area.
Historically, Hainese Chicken Rice is a dish which was adapted from early Chinese immigrants originally from Hainan province in southern China. Hainanese chicken rice is most commonly associated with Singaporean, Malaysian and Hainanese cuisines, although it is also popular in Thailand and Vietnam.
It is based on a well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken, due to its adoption by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia). It islisted at number 45 on World’s 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011. In Malaysia, as well 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.
According to Wikipedia, traditionally, the chicken is prepared by 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 for “white chicken”, in contrast to the more traditional Lǔjī (stock chicken) or Shāojī (roasted chicken).
Due to to the fact on how it is supposed to be prepared authentically, it is quite hard to fine the halal Hainanese Chicken Rice for us Muslims. Our easier target for our craving is The Chicken Rice Shop and Old Town White Coffee.
This dish is served with a hot chilli sauce dip (made up of freshly minced red chilli and garlic). There is also dark soy sauce and a heap of freshly pounded ginger for extra ooomph! Fresh cucumber in chicken broth and light soy sauce are served with the chicken, which is usually served at room temperature. They are now served mostly boneless.
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.
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.
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. A