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Jul 30, 2000 09:48 PM

Hainan Chicken Rice and Thai Fried Chicken

  • d

I just tried the restaurant "Hainan," whose speciality is Hainanese Chicken Rice - a steamed chicken served over rice cooked in chicken stock, and with a couple of special sauces (chile and ginger). This is a dish I'd fallen in love with while living in Singapore, where they prepare it perfectly.

Sadly, the version produced by the Hainan Restaurant was a disappointment relative to the Real Thing. In particular, when you eat it in Singapore the chicken has a tenderness and succulence that I've never experienced on this continent (I suspect that one of the keys is using relatively freshly killed chickens, and then being very careful not to overcook them.)

So, does anyone know where one might find a better version? (Singaporean and malaysian restauarants would be the first place to try.)

And while I'm on the topic - I also lived in Thailand for a while, and found that the Thais make an awesome fried chicken. It's served similar to Hainan chicken (ie., over chicken rice) but with a slightly sweeter chile sauce. This is considered food court type food by the Thais. I've never seen this at a Thai restaurant here probably because it's regarded as a "low end" dish - does anyone have any ideas?

Either way - I just moved to LA and am having a ton of fun exploring the myriad of ethnic restauarants. Beats any other city I've ever lived in (and that includes Toronto, San Francisco, Boston, Paris, Munich, Singapore, and Bangkok; interestingly Toronto comes closest to matching LA for authenticity and variety).


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  1. Was it Hainan Chicken in Rowland Heights?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chandavkl

      Yes, it was the one in Rowland Heights.

    2. > Singaporean and malaysian restauarants would be the first place to try

      Why is that?!! I would think *HAINAN* restaurants would be the first place to try!!

      Just because you got a bad one, don't go rewriting the map of Asia -- Hainan is an island/province on the South of China (near Zhuhai), and has **NOTHING** to do with Singapore or Malaysia. There might be some good Hainan restaurants in either of those places, but only in the same way as there might be good Cantonese, Fukkienese, or Hakka restaurants.

      Lots of migration every which way, so there may indeed be some sizable Hainanese population (I really wouldn't know). But Hainan food is definitely not "from" either of those places -- if anything NONYA cuisine (and some transplanted Fukkienese) is far more "native" to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Likewise, Hainan-ji/Hoinam-gai is just as prevalent in Hong Kong, for example; perhaps moreso, due to the proximity to Hainan province.

      I agree with you though -- when you get a good one, the dish is absolute **NIRVANA**....

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jim Wong
        Melanie Wong

        Chinese immigrants to Singapore and Malaysia have made "chicken-rice" their own in a form that is different from Hainan.


        1. re: Jim Wong

          re - searching for Hainan chicken in Hainanese restaurants - admittedly that would seem logical, but I've never come across a Hainanese restaurant. I kind of assumed Hainanese chicken was sort of like "french fries" - a food that doesn't bear any necessary relationship to the place - although you can get very good french fries in France (but possibly better ones elsewhere). But, if anyone knows of any Hainanese restaurants, I'll check 'em out by all means. I know that the s'poreans have perfected hainanese chicken; it's well beyond my imagination that anyone anywhere could make it any better, even if they invented it..

          Incidentally, the cantonese bbq shops have a version of hainan chicken that I find consistently inedble. (That along with the horrible overcooked bbq pork - again, the s'poreans have mastered bbq pork, it blows away any chinese version I've ever had - add that to the list of things I would love to find!!)


        2. I've grown up with hainan chicken since my grandmother used to cook is about every other week, with her own ginger/green onion sauce that was just heavenly. You're right--when it's good, it's the best thing on earth to savor.

          Another place to try is Savoy on Valley Blvd in Monterey Park (maybe it's more east, in San Gabriel). The place is tiny and always crowded, and their Hainan chicken is their signature dish. Not bad, sometimes a little too salty.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Way

            Way--did anybody in your family get grandma's recipe? If so, I'm sure most of us would give anything to see it! Wish I grew up with your family...we didn't eat anything half that good growing up!

            Hey, you sound like you really know your stuff. Any other places--anywhere at all--you've found in your travels that were good for Hainan chicken? If so, we'd all be most appreciative if you'd post to the appropriate board.

            .and welcome!


            1. re: Jim Leff

              Well, the next time you're in Vancouver, go to The Banana Leaf. The Hainan chicken rice there is amazing: chicken so tender, chicken-rice so rich and yummy. I also ate the one at two Straits Cafes (the one in San Francisco AND the one in Palo Alto) and neither one measured up. Beware of Banana Leaf pretenders in the U.S. The one in Vancouver is awesome.

          2. m
            Melanie Wong

            Come to San Francisco and try the chicken-rice at Straits Cafe, owned by Singaporean, Chris Yeo.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              re the straits cafe in sf - I used to live there and I've tried it! To me - it was about the same as the one at Hainan chicken. Edible, but by no means comparable to the real thing! Have you had chicken rice from a hawker stand in s'pore?

              1. re: Dylany
                Melanie Wong

                Yes, whenever possible I would stay at the Sheraton in order to be close to Newton Circle! My first time in S'pore I was horribly sick and ordered Hainan chicken from the Hyatt's room service for two days --- it was the only thing I could keep down.

                The chickens in Singapore are more flavorful - free-range I suppose. Sometimes very gristly too.

                The poached white chickens in the Cantonese bbq windows are another thing altogether. You might want to look at the link in my earlier post. Not my favorite, haven't had one for awhile, but these used to be from special rice-fed chickens that had a special silkiness in texture and more depth of flavor.