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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:

      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:


            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.

              1. My quick Chicken Rice survey:

                Hawker's Delight http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507082
                Prata-Man http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507078
                Banana Leaf http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507021
                Prima Taste http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505845
                Cafe D'Lite http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505449

                Its great to be able to do back to back comparisons. With visits to just these five restaurants I have been able to formulate the criteria upon which I can rate and judge this dish.

                So what constitutes a great chicken Rice?

                -A well poached, gelatinous, tender, flavourful chicken - boned or not
                -A good clear, clean tasting chicken broth - without a hint of starchiness
                -Bright, fresh chili and ginger sauces - freshly made
                -A caramelized (tasting of burnt sugar) dark soya sauce.
                -Fresh garnishes like crisp cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, peanuts, cilantro, or similar
                -Flavourful, fatty Rice made from the poaching liquid...traditional ones are augmented with more flavourful chicken stock that use older birds, from what I have gathered from research.

                Best = Prima Taste
                Best Value = Hawker's Delight


                2 Replies
                1. re: fmed

                  I got another one to add here. I went down to Aberdeen Centre in Richmond yesterday and came across a chicken rice place in the food court called, suitably enough, Hainanese Chicken:

                  So I went ahead and ordered one to go, figuring I could bring it to work for lunch today. I wanted to try a bit while it was still fresh, but I was way to full from overstuffing myself with dim sum. It would have to wait.

                  Despite being refrigerated overnight and lightly nuked to warm up the rice and to take the chill out of the meat, I was pleasantly surprised. The chicken was moist and tender, definitely not overcooked. It was lightly gelatinous, though I think most of it melted away when I microwaved it. The rice was gingery, moreso than others I have tried (not a bad thing). It came with athe standard ginger and chili sauces on the side, the latter which made me think of a spicy sweet and sour sauce (it wasn't great, nor terrible). Dark soy sauce was lightly drizzled on the meat and rice, though I would have preferred it on the side. I haven't tried the soup yet, since I left it at home.

                  At $5 and change, it was a very good value. Definitely not Prima Taste quality, but it gives Hawker's Delight a good run for it's money. In fact, I think I liked it better than Hawker's Delight. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had it then and there. Too bad they're all the way down in Richmond.

                  1. re: aburitoro

                    Thanks aburitoro. I've been meaning to try that place...but I keep ending up at Northern Delicacies or Fisherman's Terrace instead.

                    I went to Angel Cafe today...the Chicken Rice was terrible today (I don't recall it being this bad). I'll post a review when I have more time. I think that since trying Prima Taste, the bar has been set pretty high now.

                2. UPDATE
                  My quick Chicken Rice survey:

                  Prima Taste http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505845 -- Best one yet
                  Hawker's Delight http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507082 -- Best Value
                  Prata-Man http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507078 -- not worth the visit
                  Banana Leaf http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507021 -- worth the visit
                  Cafe D'Lite http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505449 -- worth the visit
                  Angel Cafe http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512695 -- not worth the visit
                  Hainan Chicken at Aberdeen Center - aburitoro tried it and gave it the thumbs up in this thread -- he even said that he liked it better than "Best Value" Hawker's Delight

                  There are two restaurants that are sill on the hit list: Ellie in Richmond and Tamarind Hill in New West - too far for me.

                  Both these places were recommended by kwailan who really knows his Chicken Rice. If the Chicken Rice is great, I believe the other dishes will be great too.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: fmed

                    My quick Chicken Rice survey:

                    Prima Taste http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505845 -- Best one yet
                    Hawker's Delight http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507082 -- Best Value
                    Prata-Man http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507078 -- not worth the visit
                    Banana Leaf http://www.chowhound.com/topics/507021 -- worth the visit
                    Cafe D'Lite http://www.chowhound.com/topics/505449 -- worth the visit
                    Angel Cafe http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512695 -- not worth the visit
                    Hainan Chicken (Aberdeen Center) - aburitoro tried it and gave it the thumbs up in this thread -- he even said that he liked it better than "Best Value" Hawker's Delight
                    Triple One Malaysian (Crystal Mall) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/51349... - worth the visit

                    Added Triple One.

                    1. re: fmed

                      I had the chicken rice at Hawker's Delight a few days ago, and I may have to take back my comparison of it to Hainan Chicken in Richmond. This was my second time having chicken rice at Hawker's Delight, and it was much better this time around. Then again, I was pretty damn hungry that day. I'll have to call it a draw until I can try it again at Hainan Chicken!

                      1. re: aburitoro

                        So I tried Hainan Chicken at Aberdeen Centre again over the weekend, and while it was good, it wasn't as good as the first time around. The chicken was just a bit overcooked, and a bit tougher as a result. Don't get me wrong -- it's still a great value, and I would definitely go there again for chicken rice. But I do think it ranks a tad below Hawker's Delight.

                    2. Some incredible pictures of Chicken Rice in Singapore: http://ieatishootipost.sg/search/labe...

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: fmed

                        I've only visited 6 of the outlets listed! A couple of my regulars are not listed though. Perhaps time for a trip to Singaopre :)

                        In case anyone is wondering, Kampong Chicken is equivalent to free-range chicken here.

                        1. re: kwailan4

                          Look them all dangling precariously at room temperature!

                          1. re: kwailan4

                            That is very good to know, thanks. I appreciate these translation tidbits. Sometimes the lack of translation I encouter in Vancouver is frustrating... there are days when I am not up to mystery adventures.

                        2. Speaking of nonya baba...does anyone know of an authentic recipe for their garlic cashew chicken? I would walk from Alberta, to eat that dish, just one more time.
                          Thank you in advance if you have it, or know somewhere that serves it. I miss that little big restaurant so very much.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: yeawhoever

                            nonya baba???? isnt that where la braserie is now? IIRC, it's been closed at least 15 years now. hehe...

                            In Malaysia, they have other version's of the chicken like the Ipoh sar hor fun, the chicken stalls that also make the most amazing bean sprout dish. Sounds simple, blanch the bean sprouts and serve with a hot oil blend, soy sauce mixture topped with scallions(green onions) an deep fried shallots; but taste amazing.

                            FYI, I always find that the chicken stall with the best broth/soup on the side, normally has really good chicken rice. Good chicken stall will be sell lotsa chicken quality chicken and have lotsa leftover to make the daily soup. The care and attention they put into this daily soup often reflects the care and attention they put into making their HCR, I find. The soup is naturally sweet flavour NO MSG. But, you never get good or any broth here with your HCR. So that doesnt imply here.

                            I second that Prima Taste did have a very good hainamese chicken. since they are gone. for those into DIY. Try to find their pre package mix. It make good hainamese chicken and Curry Laksa in a pinch. I have seen them in Choices before.

                            Hawker's Delight is hit or miss, but for the price it is still worthy consideration.

                            Cafe D'lite does make a good boneless HCR. Just not at the Aberdeen location. Esp do NOT try their curry laksa at the Aberdeen mall location. IMHO, the broadway location is much better. But not the best.

                            No on mentioned Blackberry Bistro pass Steveston at the end of 2nd. They have the best dipping sauce hands down. Owned by the same people that own the Singapore Beef Jerky factory nex door.

                            The 'Grandpa Chicken at Jade is really nice though not HCR. The gelatanized layer under the skin and seasoning, it is quite delicious.

                            Garlic Cashew Chicken? Is this a dish you had at Nyonya Baba? Not sure but sounds like possibly this is a sino-chinese-malaysian item. Check here as they have lotsa Nyonya recipe's.
                            well at the least you know the three main ingredients in the dish, :-D
                            maybe something like this recipe:

                            Prima Taste Restaurant
                            570 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6B2B7, CA

                            Blackberry Bistro
                            6011 Dyke Rd, Richmond, BC V7E3R3, CA

                            1. re: betterthanbourdain

                              Blast from the past!...I think that the original post was my first or second ever on CH.

                              1. re: fmed

                                Wow, it seems like decades since I wrote that reply.

                                I still like the occasional laksa at D'Lite, although the Aberdeen version is indeed horrible. And actually I never got around to trying the chicken rice.

                                BTW I think Nonya Baba was my first foray into Asian food beyond the Chinese restaurant in the UBC Village!

                                1. re: waver

                                  Nonya Baba is long gone but not forgotten. Excellent Singapore/Malaysian/Peranakan food. I haven't seen anything like it here in town since. When the old couple decided to retire, I remember giving them my business card so they can contact me in case the changed their minds and re-opened elsewhere. (Their restaurant became a Starbucks IIRC). They retired back to Malaysia and never came back. I miss that place!

                                2. re: fmed

                                  Just an update:

                                  the two best ones IMHO are gone. Blackberry Bistro and Prima Taste. Though you can but Prima Taste mix in certain stores, which I highly recommend. The rice is a little too oily for my preference. But the taste is much better than almost all version of this dish in town.
                                  more recently I've been to:
                                  Mui Garden, Coco Hut, and Prata Man - all more HK version of the hainamese chicken rice. fragrant rice is available as is soup on the side. None really stood out. Though the Mui is the least like Hainamese and more like HK chinese cold cut chicken.
                                  Cafe D'lite in Broadway is still the same after over 20 years in business. Though the Aberdeen location run by her son is not good the last three times i was there. Apparently due to the fact the son in not able to find a suitable long term cook. All ingredients are provided by the Broadway location. But get's lost in translation by the poorly supervised mainlander Chinese cooks.

                                  I've also been to a few other spots for hainam chicken. too lazy to think about them all. All served the HK version of it and none similar to the singapore/malaysia versions. All cooked by HK chinese to the best of my knowledge. I believe hainam chicken is popular in HK. and all seem to like their version rather than the other version. i see hainam chicken in a lot of the HK resto menu's. Not worthy of a visit.

                                  seems like the search for authentic hainam chicken has lead no where. sigh! how sad...

                                  Prima Taste Restaurant
                                  570 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6B2B7, CA

                                  Prata Man Restaurant
                                  9020 Capstan Way, Richmond, BC V6X3V9, CA

                                  Mui Garden Restaurant
                                  4327 North Rd, Burnaby, BC V3N4N3, CA

                                  Blackberry Bistro
                                  6011 Dyke Rd, Richmond, BC V7E3R3, CA

                                  1. re: betterthanbourdain

                                    btb, do you mean Blackberry Bistro is closed or they took Hainan chicken off the menu?

                                    Blackberry Bistro
                                    6011 Dyke Rd, Richmond, BC V7E3R3, CA

                                    1. re: _js_

                                      they are closed due to slow volume. but may open in the future if the area and customer base improves.
                                      seems like most eating places/restaurants I've spoken too are experiencing slower sale in the past few months. esp since the HST.