Friday, 4 April 2008

Singapore Hainanese chicken rice and Melaka chicken rice balls

Hainanese chicken rice is considered as one of the 'national dishes' of Singapore and is often served at international expos and often found in Singaporean restaurants overseas. The dish was brought to Singapore and Malaysia by immigrants from Hainan island in China in the 18th and 19th century, with some aspects of cooking and ingredients adapted to reflect the Southeast Asian influence of the region.

The chicken is cooked by boiling in water flavoured with garlic and ginger. The resulting stock is then used in the preparation of the rice (and also in the accompanying soup, which is a very simple chicken broth). The rice is cookedby frying the uncooked grains with chicken fat (usually fatty skin) and then steamed with chicken stock, ginger, garlic and pandan (screwpine) leaves. The result is an extremely fragrant and flavoursome rice dish, which one could easily eat on its own. The chicken is then served with sliced cucumbers and several dips including chilli sauce (made with garlic and lime), pounded ginger and garlic and thick dark soy sauce. Although the classic version is steamed chicken, also called 白鸡 (baiji; white chicken), 烧鸡 (shaoji; roast chicken) is also commonly served to suit different taste.

Of course, chicken rice was one of the dishes we made sure to eat when we were in Singapore in February. Although I do make this dish at home, there is nothing like good chicken rice from a reputable stall, and sharing the meal with family. Here are some photos from our meal at 'Boon Tong Kee', a popular chicken rice franchise in Singapore. Another set of photos also show the famous A'Famosa chicken rice balls that we had when we went to Melaka, Malaysia, on a short trip.

Aye, I kid you not. These diners were all queuing for chicken rice, on a weekday!

Tender and succulent chicken, served with some sliced spring onions and coriander, on a bed of sliced cucumbers and drizzled with a sesame soy dressing.

As you can see, the rice is not white as it has been flavoured with stock and oil. They didn't used to shape the rice into pyramids before. Must be something new. Most places just have them in a pile or a dome moulded by a rice bowl.

The rice was served with some pickled daikon (white radish), cabbage, carrot and cucumber, as well as the essential chilli sauce and thick dark soy sauce to be taken with the chicken and rice in each mouthful.

Some vegetables to complete the meal. Kailan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce (like in this previous post)...

... and sambal kang kong. Kang kong is a common vegetable in Southeast Asia, sometimes called water spinach, swamp cabbage or water convolvulus in English. This was cooked in sambal chilli, garlic and dried shrimps.

A true Singaporean meal, with everyone helping themselves to big dishes in the middle of the table. The cold drinks that you see (it is tropical climate after all) are barley drink and lime juice.

In Melaka, the chicken is served with rice balls rather than a bowl of rice. The rice is shaped into balls the size of golf balls and served with white or roast chicken. The condiments are similar. They are seen as more novelty than actually delicious on their own, although opinions differ. Personally, I find the rice too mushy and sticky (necessary in order to shape into rice balls) and more oily. AP never had them before so I reckoned we should try them at least once. He much preferred the Singaporean version, although he thought the chicken was very good. We order kampong chicken rather than regular chicken. Kampong is a Malay word for 'village' and kampong chicken refers to chicken that are allowed to roam instead of kept in cages - free range chicken, if you like. The meat has much more flavour although regular chicken is more tender. As kids, none of us liked kampong chicken as we found it too tough. I think most of us appreciate the deeper flavours of kampong chicken when we are older.

Famosa Chicken Rice Balls restaurant on Jalan Hang Jebat.

Chicken rice balls, with a plate of kampong chicken, soup on the house, and choy sum in oyster sauce.

The fiery chilli sauce

Close up of the chicken rice balls

Which do you prefer: the Singapore chicken rice or Melaka chicken rice balls?


mycookinghut said...

You made me really hungry now! I havent had my dinner and with all the pictures, I wish I was in Malaysia that I could go not any time to satisfy my craving for chicken rice!
I have tried the chicken rice balls but I think I still like the normal one :) Great post!

Little Corner of Mine said...

I like my chicken rice soft and fluffy so I would prefer the normal chicken rice I guess. I haven't tasted the chicken rice balls before but going to try it when I go back. But since you have tasted both, don't you think the chicken rice balls is hard and tight? Why is it so famous then?

noobcook said...

me been to the melaka chicken rice place before! :D Personally, I prefer the taste of Singapore's chix rice, though the Melaka rice balls really fascinate me and I'll be sure to look for it if I'm at Melacca. Great post!! :D

AliceW said...

I prefer the normal chicken rice too. I find the rice balls too moist and mushy. There is a stall in singapore selling chicken rice balls too, along Jalan Besar. Don't know if it is still there.

Nilmandra said...

My Cooking Hut: I like the normal chicken rice too. But it's one of those things you always must try if you're visiting, heh.

Little corner: The rice balls are not hard actually, just a little mushy and sticky. I guess it became famous because it got advertised as a Melaka specialty so all the tourists always try them :p

Noobcook: It's definitely worth a try if you're in Melaka. Something different :)

Alicew: Yes, I heard that there are one or two places in Singapore that sell chicken rice balls. I wonder if they taste any different to the Melaka ones; I've never tried them.

Kevin said...

That Hainanese chicken rice sounds pretty tasty! The rest o the meal also looks good.

commoi said...

I LOVE Hainanese chicken rice and kang kong! Can't stop staring at your photos. :P

Pixie said...

gosh- all that food looks so wonderful, especially the chicken! yum

tigerfish said...

Oh goodness, I'm so hungry now!

Nilmandra said...

Kevin: You need to try some if you have the chance, at a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant perhaps. Although it's difficult to guarantee they will be authentic overseas!

Commoi: Sambal kang kong is my dad's favourite. They are really hard to find in the UK!

Pixie: Yeah, is it any wonder I always put on weight when I go back ;)

Tigerfish: So was I when I looked at your photos of fishballs!

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

Wish I'm having Hainan chicken right now.

Great pictures!

Nilmandra said...

Eating Club: Thanks! Are you based in Vancouver? We're moving there in a few months!

Beau Lotus said...

I definitely prefer the normal fluffy chicken rice, the look of those rice balls and I've already lost my appetite even though I can imagine that they must taste good.

Glad to find another blog kept by a fellow Singaporean :-)

Nilmandra said...

Beau Lotus: Thanks for stopping by and for the comment :) I'll hop on over to your blog too.

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