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, Malaysian and Hainanese cuisines, although it is also popular in Thailand and Vietnam.
The only type of chicken rice found in Hainan, an island off the southern coast of China, is made with the Wengchang chicken (文昌雞) – a bony fowl with very little flesh and served with rice that is thick with oil. The dish usually comes with three dips – chilli sauce, ground ginger and an oyster sauce-and-garlic mix. This is probably the dish that evolved into the Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore – through Hainanese immigrants in the region and infused with local influences. One difference between the Hainanese chicken rice dish and its original version is the stock used. Chefs in Hainan use pork-bone and chicken-bone stock, while their Singapore counterparts avoid the pork base in their chicken rice.
The Cantonese had played a role in the evolution of the Hainanese chicken rice. They are known for their pak cham kai (white cut chicken), which uses young and tender-fleshed birds – a delicacy which is served on its own. This style of preparing chicken had influenced Hainanese chefs and today, Hainanese chicken rice feature younger birds cooked Cantonese-style.
Catherine Ling of CNN describes Hainanese chicken rice as one of the “40 Singapore foods we can’t live without”. It is also listed as number 45 on World’s 50 most delicious foods complied by CNN Go in 2011.