How this simple yet addictively aromatic chicken-and-rice dish spread its wings across the streets of Southeast Asia and beyond.
by Katrina Yentch
Chicken and rice is a ubiquitous combination throughout Asia and beyond, with countries customizing the dish with their own unique spices and regional ingredients. Hainan chicken, on the other hand, has preserved most of its original components despite its presence throughout Southeast Asia.
The integrity of the original Hainan chicken ingredients has been so well preserved that a culture war exists over where the original version comes from—even though the Chinese province of “Hainan” is literally in the dish’s name in various countries who serve it. And so, we investigate who actually created Hainan chicken, and explore how it ventured south to gain popularity as a signature meal in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
It may be obvious to many American readers, in a country of boundless diversity, that immigrants are responsible for bringing this juicy poached chicken and broth-boiled rice dish to the world. After all, the beauty of relocation is the introduction of distinctive new ingredients to the local cuisine. Therefore, many assume that Hainan chicken is from the coastal island region in Southern China, who enhanced the dish by using the tender, plump Wenchang chicken. However, the story is a little more complicated than that.
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