Hainanese chicken originates from Hainan Island (hence the name) off the southern coast of China and was brought here by immigrants from said island. There the dish is called Wenchang chicken and is a little different to the dish that is now served in many southeast asian countries.
Hainanese chicken is one of Singapore’s national dishes and can be found everywhere over here, from hawkers stalls to fine dining restaurants to even Singapore catering services, and can be always be found in Singaporean restaurants abroad. It is also popular in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, obviously served with slight differences in the cooking method. Here we’re going to tell you how, ever so slightly, this dish may vary from country to country, so you can tell your Singaporean Hainanese chicken from your Thai Hainanese chicken. First, a look at the Singaporean Hainanese Chicken Rice!
Always start with the most important and in-depth location, and this is definitely it! So here we’ll build the basic knowledge of the dish too.
The chicken is poached in water kept just below its boiling point, it is then soaked in ice cold water to ensure that it stays tender. In some regions, the chicken is roasted or braised with soy sauce for a different taste.
The rice is cooked in chicken stock, skimmed off at the point of boiling, wth ginger and pandan leaves. This makes a flavourful but oily rice often referred to by the Hainanese and Singaporeans alike – as “oily rice”. There are are many Hainanese-owned coffee shops in Singapore and one of their most popular and highly regarded dishes is chicken rice. It is for this reason that it is the rice, as well as the sauce (discussed next) that make or break this dish.
Now, the final element of Hainanese chicken rice is the sauce, and this can make or break the dish. The most widely served sauce accompaniment in Singapore is a tangy red chilli sauce of Cantonese origin. The sauce should have just the right amount of hot and just the right amount of sour. So where you get your favourite Hainanese chicken in Singapore is really your choice, but it can be a hotly debated topic!
Next, we’ll hop over to Malaysia to see how their dish differs from ours.
It is very common in Malaysia for stalls and vendors to offer roasted chicken instead of the normal poached style; BBQ-roasted, soy-sauce-roasted or honey-roasted are all popular roasting choice.
Chicken rice is also a popular dish within the Malay community. This version of Hainanese chicken is spicier and more heavily flavoured. The sauce has also been altered, adding in tamarind juice, one of Malaysia’s favourites.
Finally, Thailand. Hainanese chicken rice is also popular here, although the only component that really relates to the Singaporean version is the rice itself. Thai people use chicken that is much more associated with Thai food, and often, chicken blood tofu will be added in.
The sauce is swapped for a tauchu based sauce, with typical Southeast Asian spices and herbs used for flavour. It is also common to serve Hainanese chicken rice with a bowl of chicken broth.
So not everyone eats Hainanese chicken rice like how we do, but many Singaporeans will argue that our way is best, even declaring it one of our national dishes. So if you’re organising an event with many foreign attendees, you should maybe think about putting Hainanese chicken rice on your menu in order to proudly display your own culture and heritage. Talk to your local Singapore catering service and see what sauces they may offer to accompany the dish; you may not be allowed to sample their rice but if they are a reputable local company then it must be good!