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Monday, September 21, 2009

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Some call the Hainanese Chicken Rice the national dish of Singapore.  This is the working man's fast food and something most Singaporeans can relate to.  It is ridiculous that the Malaysian Tourism Minister proclaimed that a Malaysian dish and that we have stolen it from them.  The dish, however, has its roots in the southern Chinese province of Hainan.  A few years ago, I visited Hainan, my ancestral homeland, and wrote this about the dish:
 
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It is believed that the Hainanese Chicken Rice (HCR) began as Wenchang Chicken, a speciality and local favourite in Wenchang County of Hainan.  Wenchang is also one of the two counties which is the ancestral home counties of most overseas Hainanese.  The Wenchang chicken is essentially the Hainanese version of kampong chicken.  It is quite skinny, yellowish and tough.  Many elderly Hainanese love it, though not the younger generation Singaporean-Hainanese.  The Wenchang version is poached, served with plain rice and a sauce made from vinegar, garlic and onion, and sometimes sprinkled with garlic leaves.  Sometimes, they use chili but the chili is seldom hot - mostly the sweet variety.
 
The Singapore version of HCR is an evolved variety that uses young, fat chicken which is soaked in ice and water to make the skin tender and jelly-like.  The chicken is then boiled with garlic and ginger to produce the stock.  The chicken is cut and served with fresh fiery chili sauce mixed with ginger.  The rice, which is critical to the dish, is prepared first by frying rice with chicken oil, then cooked with rich chicken stock and ginger, the net result of which is fragrant tasty rice with a wonderful, slight gingerly aroma.
 
I prefer the Singapore version, which is a lot more fragrant and tender, as it uses younger farmed chicken and various spices, plus additional seasoning and preparatory steps.  After all, Hainan was for a long time a remote, isolated frontier land with little external influences in its cuisine.  The early Hainanese immigrants in Singapore had to adapt their dish so as to compete with other cuisines.  The net result is a delicious dish that has adopted the Cantonese method of making the chicken tender through an ice-bath treatment, while incorporating the local preference for spicier food.
 
This is no different from any other business.  Competition from abroad makes a business stronger and competitive.  Those protected in the backwaters tend to be weak and will eventually die a slow death.

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