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Hainanese chicken rice is a dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice, served with chilli sauce and usually with cucumber garnishes.[1] It was created by immigrants from Hainan in southern China and adapted from the Hainanese dish Wenchang chicken. It is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore[2][3][4] and is most commonly associated with Singaporean cuisine. The dish is also seen throughout Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia where it is a culinary staple.


Hainanese chicken rice is a dish adapted from early Chinese immigrants originally from Hainan province in southern China. It is based on a well-known Hainanese dish called Wenchang chicken (Template:Lang), which is one of four important Hainan dishes dating to the Qin dynasty.[5] The Hainanese in China traditionally used a specific breed, the Wenchang chicken, to make the dish.[6] The original dish was adapted by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia).[7]

Almost every country in Asia with a history of immigration from China has a version.[5] The San Francisco Chronicle says, "the dish maps 150 years’ immigration from China's Hainan Singapore and Malaysia, where the dish is often known as Hainan chicken rice; to Vietnam, where it is called "Hai Nam chicken"; and to Thailand, where it has been renamed "khao man gai" ("fatty rice chicken")."[8]

In Singapore[]

In Singapore, the dish was born out of frugality, created by servant-class immigrants trying to stretch the flavour of the chicken.[9]

The first chicken rice restaurants opened in Singapore during Japanese occupation in World War II, when the British were forced out and their Hainanese servants lost their source of income. One of the first was Yet Con, which opened in the early 1940s.[9] The dish was popularised in Singapore in the 1950s by Moh Lee Twee, whose Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant operated from 1947 to 1997.[10] Hong Kong food critic Chua Lam credits Moh with the creation of the dish.[6] Channel News Asia's Annette Tan credits Wang Yiyuan for "bringing the dish" to Singapore in the 1920s.[11]

Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of Singapore's national dishes.[12][8][11][9][7][13][14][15] It is eaten "everywhere, every day" in Singapore[13] and is a "ubiquitous sight in hawker centres across the country".[7]

While most commonly associated with Singaporean cuisine, the dish is also seen throughout Southeast Asia and in parts of the United States.[16][13] The dish is widely popular in Singapore and can be found in most coffee shops and food courts.Template:Citation needed

Controversy over origin[]

In a debate that stretches back decades to 1965, when the two countries split, both Malaysia and Singapore have laid claim to inventing the dish.[17][18]

In 2009 Malaysia's Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said that Hainanese chicken rice was "uniquely Malaysian" and had been "hijacked" by other countries.[19][20][21] Ng later clarified that she was misquoted on her intention to patent the foods, and that a study on the origins of the foods would be conducted "and an apology conveyed if it was wrongly claimed."[22]

In 2018 Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng joked that Singapore claimed "chicken rice is theirs (and) if we’re not careful, ‘char koay teow‘ will become theirs" one day.[17][18]


Catherine Ling of CNN called Hainanese chicken rice one of the "40 Singapore foods we can't live without".[15] It was listed as one of the "World's 50 best foods" by CNN in 2018.[23] David Farley of the BBC called it "the dish worth the 15-hour flight" and said it was "deceptively simple – which is good, because on paper it sounds awfully boring."[9] Saveur called it "one of the most beloved culinary exports of Southeast Asia."[24]




'Chicken rice balls', a Malaysian variation of chicken rice, in Muar, Johor, Malaysia

In Malaysia, nasi ayam (literally "chicken rice" in Bahasa Melayu) is "a culinary staple"[25] and a popular street food, particularly in Ipoh, a center of Hainanese immigration.[14]

The general term nasi ayam can refer to multiple variations including roasted and fried chicken, can be served with a variety of sauces including barbecue, and can be accompanied by a variety of side dishes including steamed rice rather than seasoned 'oily' rice, soup, or chicken offal.[26]

In Malacca and Muar, the rice is served in balls rather than in bowls; this dish is commonly known as Chicken rice balls. Steamed rice is shaped into golf ball-sized orbs and served alongside the chopped chicken.[26][27]


File:Chatterbox ChickenRice.JPG

Hainanese chicken rice at Chatterbox, Meritus Mandarin

The chicken is prepared in accordance with traditional Hainanese methods, which involve poaching the entire chicken at sub-boiling temperatures to both cook the bird and produce the stock. The bird is dipped in ice after cooking to produce a jelly-like skin finishing and hung to dry.[9]

The stock is skimmed of fat and some of the fat and liquid, along with ginger, garlic, and pandan leaves, are used in the cooking of the rice, producing an oily, flavourful rice sometimes known as "oily rice".[9] In Singapore "the most important part of chicken rice is not the chicken, but the rice."[9]

The dish is served with a dipping sauce of freshly minced red chilli and garlic, usually accompanied with dark soy sauce and freshly ground ginger. Fresh cucumber boiled in the chicken broth and light soy sauce with a dash of sesame oil is served with the chicken, which is usually served at room temperature.[8][9] Some stalls may also serve nonya achar as an additional side.[11]


File:2013 Khao man kai CM.jpg

Khao man kai, a Thai variation on Hainanese chicken rice

Hainanese chicken rice is a common dish in Thailand where it is called khao man kai (Template:Lang-th), literally meaning "chicken oily rice". The chickens used in Thailand for this dish are usually free range chickens of local breeds, resulting in a leaner and tastier texture, however, meat from chickens of large scale poultry farms are increasingly being used.Template:Citation needed Khao man kai is served with a garnish of cucumbers and occasionally chicken blood tofu and fresh coriander, along with a bowl of nam sup, a clear chicken broth which often contains sliced daikon. The accompanying sauce is most often made with tauchu (also known as yellow soybean paste), thick soy sauce, chilli, ginger, garlic and vinegar.[28]

One famous Bangkok neighbourhood for Khao man kai is Pratunam in Ratchathewi district, located near to Platinum Fashion Mall, CentralWorld and Ratchaprasong Intersection. Some restaurant in Pratunam received Bib Gourmand awards from the 2018 Michelin Guide.[29] It has been reported that these restaurants are especially popular amongst Hong Kong, Japanese and Taiwanese tourists.[30] Khao man kai is also well known in other areas, including Bang Sue,[31] Yaowarat[32] and Phasi Charoen near Bang Wa BTS station and Phyathai 3 Hospital[33] including various places viz Thanon Tok near Rama III Bridge,[34] Thong Lor on Sukhumvit Road, Wat Suthiwararam School, Yan Nawa, Bang Kapi, Wat Saket and Saphan Kwai neighbourhoods.[35] [36]


The dish is known as Cơm Gà Hải Nam in Vietnamese.Template:Citation needed

In popular culture[]

  • Khao man kai is a 1997 Ruangsak "James" Loychusak single. Loychusak's grandmother sold Khao man kai in his native Nakhon Si Thammarat.Template:Citation needed
  • Rice Rhapsody (alternative title Hainan Chicken Rice) is a 2004 Singaporean comedy set in a successful chicken rice restaurant in Singapore's Chinatown.Template:Citation needed
  • Chicken Rice War is a 2000 Singaporean romantic comedy adaptation of Romeo and Juliet featuring two rival chicken rice hawker families whose children fall in love.Template:Citation needed
  • Hainanese chicken rice was featured on the Netflix TV series Street Food in season 1.[37]

See also[]


  • Laksa
  • Peranakan cuisine
  • Chinese Indonesian cuisine


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