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Hainanese chicken rice is a dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice, served with chili sauce and garnishes. It was created by immigrants from Hainan province in southern China and adapted from the Hainanese dish Wenchang chicken. It is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore and is most commonly associated with Singaporean cuisine but is also seen throughout Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia where it is a culinary staple.

Hainanese chicken rice
Hainanese Chicken Rice.jpg
Hainanese chicken rice served at a hawker centre in Singapore
Alternative namesHainan chicken
Place of originSoutheast Asia
Region or stateSingapore and Southeast Asia
Associated national cuisineSingapore
Created byHainanese
Main ingredientsChicken, chicken stock, chicken fat, rice
Food energy
(per serving)
617 kcal (2583 kJ)
Hainanese chicken rice
Traditional Chinese海南雞飯
Simplified Chinese海南鸡饭
Literal meaningHainan chicken rice



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 (文昌雞), which is one of four important Hainan dishes dating to the Chin dynasty[disambiguation needed].[1] The Hainanese in China traditionally used a specific breed, the Wenchang chicken, to make the dish.[2] The original dish was adapted by the Hainanese overseas Chinese population in the Nanyang area (present-day Southeast Asia).[3]

Almost every country in Asia with a history of immigration from China has a version.[1] 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”)."[4]

In SingaporeEdit

In Singapore the dish was born of frugality, created by servant-class immigrants trying to stretch the flavor of the chicken.[5]

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.[5] The dish was popularised in Singapore in the 1950s by Moh Lee Twee, whose Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant operated from 1947 to 1997.[6] Hong Kong food critic Chua Lam credits Moh with the creation of the dish.[2] Channel News Asia's Annette Tan credits Wang Yiyuan for "bringing the dish" to Singapore in the 1920s.[7]

Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of Singapore's national dishes.[8][4][7][5][3][9][10][11] It is eaten "everywhere, every day" in Singapore[9] and is a "ubiquitous sight in hawker centres across the country".[3]

While most commonly associated with Singaporean cuisine, the dish is also seen throughout Southeast Asia and in parts of the United States.[12][9]

Origins ControversyEdit

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.[13][14]

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.[15][16][17]

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.[13][14]


Catherine Ling of CNN called Hainanese chicken rice one of the "40 Singapore foods we can't live without".[11] It was listed as one of the "World's 50 best foods" by CNN in 2018.[18] 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."[5] Saveur called it "one of the most beloved culinary exports of Southeast Asia."[19]



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 stock. The bird is dipped in ice after cooking to produce a jelly-like skin finishing, commonly referred to as báijī (白雞; 'white chicken') and hung to dry.[5]

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".[5] In Singapore "the most important part of chicken rice is not the chicken, but the rice."[5]

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 are served with the chicken, which is usually served at room temperature.[4][5] Some stalls may also serve nonya achar as an additional side.[7]


Nasi ayam, a Malay style of chicken rice, in Muar, Johor, Malaysia

In Malaysia, nasi ayam (literally "rice chicken" in Bahasa Melayu) is "a culinary staple"[20] and a popular street food, particularly in Ipoh, a center of Hainanese immigration.[10]

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.[21]

In Malacca, the chicken rice is served as rice balls rather than a bowl of rice, commonly known as Chicken rice balls. Steamed rice is shaped into golf ball-sized orbs and served alongside the chopped chicken.[21]


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 (Thai: ข้าวมันไก่), literally meaning "chicken-fat rice". The chickens used in Thailand for this dish can be free range chickens of local breeds, resulting in a leaner and tastier dish, but increasingly meat chickens from large scale poultry farms are being used. 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.[22]

One famous Bangkok neighborhood 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.[23] It has been reported that these restaurants are especially popular amongst Hong Kong, Japanese and Taiwanese tourists.[24] Khao man kai is also well known in other areas, including Bang Sue,[25] Yaowarat[26] and Phasi Charoen near Bang Wa BTS station and Phyathai 3 Hospital[27] including various places viz Thanon Tok near Rama III Bridge,[28] Thong Lor on Sukhumvit Road, Wat Suthiwararam School, Yan Nawa, Bang Kapi, Wat Saket and Saphan Kwai neighborhoods.[29][30]


The dish is known as Cơm Gà Hải Nam in Vietnamese.

In popular cultureEdit

  • 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.


  1. ^ a b O'Change, Hanji. "The Way Rice Should Be: Hainanese Chicken Rice". Free Press. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b Cam, Lisa. "So, if Hainan chicken didn't come from Hainan, where is it from?". Style. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Chicken Rice". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Kauffman, Jonathan. "Hainanese chicken rice: Southeast Asia's ever-evolving comfort food". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Farley, David. "The Dish Worth the 15-Hour Flight". BBC.
  6. ^ Wang Zhenchun (王振春). Hua Shuo Hainan Ren (话说海南人): Mo Lu Rui Created The Mini Hainanese Chicken Rice Empire (莫履瑞创下海南鸡饭小王国). The Youth Book Co. Singapore. 2008. ISBN 978-981-08-1095-5. pp 82
  7. ^ a b c Tan, Annette. "5 places for good chicken rice". Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  8. ^ Goldfield, Hannah. "Chili Crabs Provide a Lively Intro to Singaporean Cuisine at Yummy Tummy". New Yorker. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Kugiya, Hugo. "Singapore's national dish: Hainan chicken rice". Crosscut. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  10. ^ a b Brehaut, Laura. "Cook this: Hainanese chicken rice a Malaysian street-food classic". National Post. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b Ling, Catherine. "40 Singapore foods we can't live without". CNN. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  12. ^ Bittman, Mark. "From a Chinese Island, a Chicken for Every Pot". New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  13. ^ a b Tan, Dylan. "Chicken rice war reignited as Lim Guan Eng urged Malaysia to give Singapore a run for its money". Business Insider. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  14. ^ a b Loh, Lainey. "Malaysia vs Singapore: Who has better food?". Asian Correspondent. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  15. ^ Sukmaran, Tashny; Jaipragas, Bhavan. "FOOD FIGHT, LAH: WHO WILL EAT THEIR WORDS IN SINGAPORE-MALAYSIA HAWKER BATTLE?". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  16. ^ Celjo, Farah. "Dipping sauce and a little controversy: who knew chicken rice had such 'wow' factor". SBS. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  17. ^ "The debate about the origins of food – a futile food fight?". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  18. ^ "The world's 50 best foods". CNN. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  19. ^ Pang, Kevin. "THE WORLD'S BEST CHICKEN COMES FROM HAINAN". Saveur. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Hainanese Chicken Rice". Gourmet. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  21. ^ a b "Chicken Rice". Malaysia Travel. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  22. ^ "How to Make Khao Man Gai ข้าวมันไก่: Thai Version of Hainanese Chicken and Rice". She Simmers: Thai Home Cooking. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Go-Ang Kaomunkai Pratunam (Pratunam)". Michelin Guide.
  24. ^ "ทำไมคนเอเชีย หลงใหล ข้าวมันไก่ประตูน้ำ". Voice TV (in Thai). Jul 29, 2014.
  25. ^ "ยอดขายหลักล้าน "เจริญชัยไก่ตอน" ข้าวมันไก่ 24 ชม". Bangkok Bank (in Thai). 2018-01-27.
  26. ^ ""ไท้เฮง" ตำรับไหหลำ อร่อยอย่างเหลาที่เยาวราช". Manager Daily (in Thai). 2011-01-30.
  27. ^ ปิ่นโตเถาเล็ก (2014-10-26). "ข้าวมันไก่บางไผ่ทอง ไก่ตอนนุ่มหนึบหนังบาง ตับนุ่มเนียนที่สุด". Matichon (in Thai).
  28. ^ "Check in ถิ่นสยาม ถนนตก ทำไมจึงชื่อถนนตก แล้วถนนตกนี้จะไปตกที่ไหน". Matichon (in Thai). 2015-07-06.
  29. ^ "01: พันธนาการแห่งข้าวมันไก่". minimore (in Thai). 2015-07-24.
  30. ^ สริตา (2011-05-22). "###(CR)ข้าวมันไก่เจ๊ยี ตรงข้ามวัดสระเกศ###". (in Thai).