It used to be that when you went out for chicken rice, chicken rice was all you got. Tender white meat on a mound of fragrant rice; each grain glistening with oil from the chicken fat that’s used to flavour the rice. The only decisions you had to make then were whether you wanted white or roast chicken, thigh or breast meat. And of course whether you should have the black sauce with the other condiments of grated ginger and a vinegary chilli sauce, or pour it over and mix it into your rice.
Back then, the juiciness of the chicken, the smoothness of the rice, even the condiments, were things that could elevate a stall from it’s competitors. These days sadly, it’s not just about the chicken, but how much value you can add – in the form of a million other dishes – as evidenced on a recent trip to 5-star Hainanese Chicken Rice Restaurant.
We had a roast chicken, a steamed white chicken, Hainanese pork chop, stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables, fried prawn & yam balls and fresh greens. It was delicious (and way too much for 6 people) but all those other dishes totally distracted me from the main event – the chicken. I couldn’t decide what to eat first. I wanted to savour my chicken, on my rice, with a dash of chilli and ginger, but I couldn’t resist a bit of pork belly, and the pork chop kept calling my name. In the end, I just couldn’t concentrate with all that other food going on…
When did it get to be that the chicken rice became only a bit player in a much bigger arena?
When I went for chicken rice but all I remember were how good the prawn & yam balls were….