Hainanese Chicken Rice Belongs to Singapore More Than It Does To Hainan
Image Credit: The techniques used to make chicken rice have Hainanese and Cantonese influences.

Hainanese chicken rice is an ode to simplicity: the dish of boiled rice and chicken poached in broth, served with soy sauce, has been named Singapore’s national dish.

The techniques used to make chicken rice have Hainanese and Cantonese influences. Hainan, a small island that’s part of China, saw the original version of chicken rice, which was made with Wengchang chickens while Cantonese influences demanded that more tender, white cut chickens be used. The chicken, coated with a thick layer of oil, is served with a bed of rice, accompanied by soy sauce and sometimes chilli-garlic sauce.

Despite its origin story, the credit for the dish has been attributed to Moh Lee Twee, the owner of Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant in Singapore. Lee Twee started off as a vendor at a street stall and was popular for the way he packed his chicken and rice separately in bamboo tubes. His fragrant rice, made with the broth of the chicken that usually includes garlic, ginger and pandan leaves, was the talk of the town.

These days, Hainanese chicken rice is made by poaching a whole chicken and then quickly placing it in freezing water to create a thick layer of jelly around it. The rice used in the dish is difficult to achieve, made using the stock from the poaching process. It is customary for the rice to have chicken fat, but without being greasy.

More recently, Hainanese chicken rice has gained popularity worldwide. CNN listed it as one of the 50 best foods in the world in 2011. It received the most adulation when food show presenter Anthony Bourdain visited the stall Tian Tian Chicken Rice in Singapore (one of 17 hawkers to be awarded a bib gourmand by the Michelin Guide Singapore in 2017) for his TV show ‘No Reservations’.

Madam Foo Kui Lian of Tian Tian Chicken Rice even won against Gordon Ramsay in a national chicken rice cooking competition. Be it long queues at Tian Tian Chicken Rice or other hawkers, the fact that Hainanese chicken rice has carved a place for itself in the food culture of Singapore remains undisputed.