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Hainan Chicken Rice (Vancouver)

Fell in love with this dish on a trip to Singapore many eons ago. My favourite place (Nonya Baba on Davie) closed over a decade ago. I'm on a quest to find the best in Vancouver. Ideally, the restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall...not something like the Banana Leaf (which is great, but quite the wrong context for a Chicken Rice Meal...what the heck, I'll add it to the list)

I'm looking for recommendations. I only have a short list so far (I don't even know if a couple these places are still around):

Cafe D'Lite - chicken is nice, skin is nicely gelatinous but the meat lacks slikiness, rice is slighty disintegrated, the dipping sauce is a bit bland, the soup is OK, a bit overpriced

Hawker's Delight - chicken is nice, skin often lacks that good gelatinous texture, the meat is a bit bland, dipping sauce is decent sometimes, the soup is nice and light. The rice is often too disintegrated. Inconsistent.

Orchid Dellight - bland chicken, seems to be lacking ginger and sesame flavours, tastes more like the quasi-chicken rice you get at a regular (non Singapore/Malaysian) Chinese noodle house.

Angel's Cafe - seems to be the best one of the bunch so far, good gingeriness and sesame flavours, the dipping sauce is nice and fresh tasting.

Banana Leaf - the Chicken Rice here is good too...nice and gelatinous, silky meat, good dipping sauce with a bit more kick than the rest), the soup is nice, clean, and fresh tasting with no off flavours. But this is a premium restaurant...not a hole in the wall "hawker".

Prata-Man (Richmond) - Good gelatinous chicken, good silky meat, good flavour. Gingery. Nice rice....nice soup. I've only been once...so I can't comment on consistency.

On Lok - I didn't expect authentic tasting Hainan rice here...tastes like chinese noodle house "steamed" chicken.

Mui Garden - More of the quasi, not quite authentic tasting Hainan rice.

Any recommendations?

PS. I hear the "best" way to prepare this dish is to either slow-poach it or bring it to boil, then turn off the heat for 20 mins, then bring it to boil again, and turn off the heat again...etc. Then when the chicken is done....dunk it in ice cold water to stop the cooking.

I think many of these places rush the chicken - for example the chinese noodle house ersatz Chicken Rice is often tough and the skin is not gelatinous...it tastes off and the mouth feel is all wrong. The quality of the chicken is of the utmost importance - not necessarily free-range, but it should be young and tasty...even if factory raised...which often results a distinctly and unpleasantly tart tasting meat.

I've tried to cook this myself...but the carving takes too much skill.

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  1. I am so impressed by this list... talk aobut comprehensive. And your memory! I have nothing really useful except to add that there is a food court in the new Aberdeen Mall and one vendor there is said to specialize in this dish. My dad has tried to drag me there a couple of times, but I never quite made it. He is no expert, but at least you can add this to your sample set perhaps?

    2 Replies
    1. re: alex8alot

      Thanks for the tip. i will be doing some pre-Xmas shopping at Daiso, so I'll check it out. (I know I've seen it.) Maybe time to check out that new Bear Papa's cream puff.

      Further on Chicken Rice -- Good old Wikipedia:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hainanes...

      1. re: fmed

        I love daiso. I would seriously risk abandoning my two children there as I wander the aisles in a daze. I tried beard papa in LA this past weekend, and it was amazing. I will undertake my own soon, but I am already to concede defeat. I also had the strawberry flavor. Swirls of real strawberry puree,wasn't expecting that. Beard Papa and Pinkberry were in a constant competition for gastric real estate the entire weekend.

    2. I have nothing to add, sorry, except that I've always watched the chicken rice at Cafe D'lite being gobbled and wondered what it was all about as it doesn't look that interesting. Obviously I way underestimated the appeal - I'll try it next time. Sprout and I usually have noodle soups there, which are quite good. Always tempted to try the bobo chacha too, have you?
      And last time we were at Daiso, there were indeed huge line-ups at the cream puff place, I didn't get that either, I thought they were giving something away for free! So now I have to go try that too! Phew, a couple of serious food tasks to add to the endless holiday list! Thanks!

      5 Replies
      1. re: waver

        Where is Cafe D'lite? Do they have noodle soups like at Hon's? I don't ever think of ordering the chicken rice thing either, but when someone else does, I usually end up "sharing" the whole plate.

        1. re: alex8alot

          Its on West Broadway,between the Bon Ton and Tim Horton's, sort of across from Kids Books (maybe i'm a block off there). They seem to have 2 types of soups. A clear fairly rich tasting, salty chicken both with chicken or tofu and vegetables and two kinds of noodles. The little dude likes this, I do too, but I really like the Singapore laksa, which is of course richer, spicier and coconuttier. I think you can have either of these made with regular chicken or Hainanese chicken.

          1. re: waver

            oh my, they both sound right up my alley. Thankyou for adding to MY holiday food task list, and I won't have to rope in a babysitter for this one!

            1. re: waver

              do you happen to know of a good place for vietnamese curry noodle soup?
              (sorry to hijack!)

              1. re: alex8alot

                That's my next project! (Why don't you start a new thread?)

        2. There should not be any taste of sesame in Hainan Chicken. The sesame should be in the soya sauce "dressing".

          Well, you left out Ellie, Tamarind Hill and Prima Taste. My personal favorite for Hainan Chicken is Prima Taste, followed by Ellie and Banana Leaf. Eating Hainan Chicken at Prima Taste is like eating at Chatterbox in Singapore. If you've tried the real thing in Singapore, you will know what I mean.

          Banana Leaf and Prima Taste are not hole-in-wall. I suppose you're left with Ellie, which is not really hole in the wall either.

          I will not bother eating Hainan Chicken at the other places you have listed, although I have yet to try Angel's Cafe.

          4 Replies
          1. re: kwailan4

            >>There should not be any taste of sesame in Hainan Chicken. The sesame should be in the soya sauce "dressing".

            Could this be a cook's preference? I was taught to rub sesame oil on the skin of the bird after boiling and cooling by a cook from Singapore. Like here: http://chinesefood.about.com/od/poult...

            I went to the Banana Leaf for lunch today, actually. I just happened to be in the neighbourhood.

            One more important criterion is the amount of dipping sauces. Today, I never ran out of grated ginger, hot sauce or soy.

            Another criterion is the amount and kinds of sides (cucumber, sometimes peanuts, etc,)

            I have had HCR at Chatterbox in Singapore. I will try Ellie, Tamarind Hill and Prima Taste - I have heard about them and I have added them to my list. Thanks for the recommendations! I also forgot to add Tropika (I have eaten it there. It's OK).

            What do you look for in HCR, wkailan4? Are you from Singapore originally?

            1. re: fmed

              Not really. When I first started cooking Hainan Chicken, that's what I do to stop the chicken skin from turning yellow. Later, I was taught to just dunk the chicken in cold water. The skin stays white.

              I grew up eating chicken rice (just the rice) with chicken rice dark soya sauce. Prima Taste is the only place in town with the right sauce. So, I suppose it could be the "familiarity" thing - Hainan Chicken Rice is just not the same without the right soya sauce and chilli. The next thing I look for is the gelatin between the chicken skin and meat. Not many places can achieve that. With the current health concern, not many places want to achieve that!

              BTW, the reason I go to Prima Taste is for the fried version of Hainan Chicken. A couple of places do the Hainan Chicken decently, but this is the only place you can get the fried version. I always get the dish where you get both the Fried and Hainan Chicken

              1. re: kwailan4

                Prima Taste this weekend for me!

                Thanks for the info!

                1. re: fmed

                  Back home, my mom never let me eat chicken rice in the late afternoon or night. She always says you do not know how long the chicken has been hanging there. So same advice to you, go when they just opened for the day to get the best chicken.

          2. By chance tonight, I was at the first place listed on fmed's great list. Unfortunately, I had had a late lunch so was not that hungry while my dining mates all were gorging down on various dishes but I did take a few stabs at the half chicken plate that was ordered. Also unfortunately, I came away disappointed with the flavor of the meat (not that smooth texture one would hope for as it was a bit 'stringy' for my liking, and the dipping sauces were rather ordinary (didn't even come out with a dark soy sauce either, which is my favorite of the usual trio one sees with this dish). I think I will have to check out some others on this long list, but then again I am hitting S'Pore in August again so maybe it can wait. :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: jay_kay

              Nice that you revived this thread!

              I have gone to Prima Taste (kwailan4's rec) a number of times now. Indeed it is at the top of the class. It is a premium restaurant - not our typical "hawker stall" hole in the wall kind of place....which is the "proper" context for chicken rice.

              I agree with your assessment of D'Lite's chicken. Meat needs to be more silky - they probably rushed the poaching. It is also pricey for what you get.

              Have fun in Singapore...I haven't been in such a long time. Food heaven.

              1. re: fmed

                A subthread about a recipe for Hainan Chicken rice has been moved to the Home Cooking board:

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/489879

            2. I know this is an old thread, but I came across this thread while googling for something entirely unrelated. Coincidentally, I had just made chicken rice for dinner this evening! And I happen to have chicken rice at Prima Taste a few days ago (it was my second trip there). The only other place I've had it here in Vancouver is at Mui Garden (the Burnaby location).

              The Mui Garden chicken rice is more along the lines of what I can get at any cheap Chinese restaurant (their beef brisket coconut curry is outstanding, btw). The chicken rice at Prima Taste, however, is the best chicken rice I had outside of S'pore or Malaysia, though it might be a tie with one I had in HK years ago. Just to go off-topic a bit, the satay is really good at Prima Taste as well. Yes, I know, satay is nothing special, but they definitely do an above average satay. Also, I thought the same thing about Prima Taste -- it's far too "classy" for a chicken rice joint!

              I went to Hawker's Delight a couple of weeks ago to get some take-out, and I ordered chicken rice but ended up with something entirely different (didn't notice 'til I go home). Sure, there was chicken, and there was rice, but it wasn't Hainanese chicken rice! Rather, it was some type of curry chicken.

              Glad to see this list, and that there are so many options for chicken rice. I'll have to try a few of these places out next time. Prata-Man seems worth a visit.