Hong Kong’s best Hainan chicken rice
Most Hong Kong diners are familiar with Hainan chicken rice, which appears on menus from Southeast Asian restaurants to hotel coffee shops around town. The dish that most serve is the Singaporean version -- which has more dips than you would find accompanying the dish in Hainan Island itself. On the sub-tropical South China isle, the most prized chickens come from the Wenchang area in its east.
Traditionally, the rice is fried with garlic before cooking and the water in which the tender fowl is poached turns to stock that is used to boil rice and for accompanying soup. We take a look here at some of the better variations on the dish, available in Hong Kong.
Nu-skool: Hainan Shao Ye
Recently-opened Hainan Shao Ye offers a refined Singaporean rendition of the dish. The restaurant was launched by bankers-turned-restaurateurs, who brought two chefs from Singapore to Hong Kong to set up the kitchen. Resident chef Arron Ye Siong Lai was previously at Chatterbox, at the Mandarin Orchard -- a Singapore restaurant known for its signature chicken rice. Lean chickens used here are specially reared in Guangdong, weighing less than 1.5 kilograms to keep fat content down; the dark meat is full of flavor. The rice and soup are fragrant and not oily, which they can be in some restaurants. In Hainan, chicken rice comes with one chopped ginger, garlic and vinegar dipping sauce; the Singaporean version comes with additional chilli and dark soy sauces. At this restaurant, the ginger dip is a mild puree, the chilli sauce is quite light and the soy, sourced from Singapore. It’s a tasty low-cal version and the set comes with an appetizer (steamed egg with preserved egg, pictured), a vegetable of the day and a drink.
HK$88 for the set; add HK$10 for dark meat.
Hainan Shao Ye, Shop P311, 3/F, World Trade Centre, Causeway Bay, tel: +852 2111 3166, www.hainanshaoye.com
Thai take: Koon Thai Hai Nam Chicken
Besides Singapore, Hainanese migrants arrived in sizeable numbers in Bangkok from midway through the last century. A Siamese-influenced version of Hainan chicken rice can be tried at Koon Thai Hai Nam Chicken, which has several branches in town. The Wanchai restaurant with its frosted glass table tops is informal. Its “Hai Nam in Thai Style Set” is a lot more impressive than its description. It comes with a zesty young papaya salad and a dessert of the day. The set or individual portions for sharing are all breast meat; meat and skin are perfectly tender, and there is almost no fat at all. The soup here is not at all oily and is well seasoned, with plenty of white pepper and a lot of salt. A delicious dip mixes chilli, garlic, sugar, chopped coriander, vinegar and a splash of fish sauce.
HK$52 for the set
Koon Thai Hai Nam Chicken, G/F, 199-201 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, tel: +852 2770 0162, www.koonthai.com.hk
Elegantly executed: Grand Cafe
A number of hotel coffee shops feature our discussed dish. Grand Hyatt Hong Kong’s Grand Café is thought by some to serve the best Singapore-style Hainan chicken rice in town -- it dishes up some 200 portions per day. And that’s all day, so you can get a fix any time till midnight. Choose breast or leg -- the latter is de-boned. The meat taste is subtle, and like the rice, it is somewhat oily, which is the way the dish is usually served; 2.5-kilo chickens are used, so there is a little fat. The chicken is served on shredded lettuce and with freshly blanched vegetables. Rice is fragrant and stickier than some. For this writer, the highlights were the light soup with diced turnip, given extra depth with Yunnan ham, and the sauces: a pungent ginger, garlic and spring onion; a mild chilli and garlic; and a thick sweet dark soy.
HK$198 for the set
Grand Café, Lobby level, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, tel: +852 2588 7722, hongkong.grand.hyatt.com
Best deal: Good Satay
Don’t be fooled by its close tables and bright fast-food-like yellow paper tablemats, Good Satay is a destination restaurant for Hainan chicken rice. And the set price is one of the best deals in town. Chicken portions include both breast and dark meat; the fowl is a bit fatty but fully flavored. Garlic and ginger and chilli sauces, though almost fluorescent in color, are also highly flavored, the latter is quite vinegary. The dark sweet soy doesn't quite deliver, being a bit thin and oily. Speaking of oil, there is plenty in the soup, rice and chicken, which is tempered by a generous amount of shredded lettuce. Tasty, if not low-cal, and the staff are friendly and relaxed.
HK$36 for the set
Good Satay, 1/F, Houston Centre, Shop 144-148, 63 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, tel: +852 2739 9808
Old-timer: Nam Ah Restaurant 1964
This Southeast Asian restaurant, which proclaims its longevity in its name, is another destination for our discussed rice dish. The restaurant, which has as much Southeast Asian cuisine on its menu as European and local cha chanteng fare, is quite a contemporary-looking joint. The soup is a sweet pork and chicken one with vegetables and pulses; rice, though fragrant, is a bit sticky. Chili and ginger with garlic sauces are packed with flavor as is the star of the show -- the chicken: almost gamey, though a bit fatty. Overall oiliness is balanced with thin slices of pickled cucumber and turnip. Do pay the small premium for tastier leg meat -- though note it is not de-boned. Dessert is inclusive.
HK$65 for the set; add HK$5 for dark meat.
Nam Ah Restaurant 1964, 17-19 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay, tel: +852 2187 3487