Chinese Cuisine

Beijing culinary centennial icons “Laozihao”

Beijing culinary centennial icons are revered “Laozihao” (老字号) establishments. Known as gastronomic exceptional restaurants showcasing almost every region of Chinese cuisine in the capital city. The title translates as ‘old brand’names¹. Each in its own uniqueness representing a high level of culinary art by remaining true to its origin.

Stumbled upon an older article mentioning the city’s eponymous duck and the city’s oldest surviving restaurant. “Bianyifang Kaoyadian” established in 1416, the premise originally began as a takeaway. The first characters of the Chinese name ‘Bianyifang’ roughly translates as “convenient to everyone” roast duck shop.

As the name of the shop indicates it features a special bird, the duck, with an illustrious history. The roast duck dates back with an acknowledgement as early as the Yuan dynasty (1202-1368). Here it became listed among the Imperial dishes in ‘The Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages’³. For connoisseurs and curious foodies who like to read more about the history of roast duck click on the link. A different poultry topic here for the goose link. Source: A Taste of Old Peking: The Capital’s Culinary Culture Lives on in its Laozihao Restaurants | the Beijinger 

A Taste of Old Peking The Capital s Culinary Culture Lives on in its Laozihao Restaurants the Beijinger

Source credit: | blog author Ed Lanfranco

The Flavour of the Capital

After reading the article, my own memories unfurled of an earliest family home trip in 1981. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I visited a few of these iconic Beijing culinary centennials establishments. One of them is the now well over 200 years old Yueshengzhai Restaurant. The most famous and oldest Muslim establishment in the capital city. Doors opened in 1775, by a former servant at the Qing Imperial court named Ma Qingrui. Six generations have continued and followed the traditions after its founder.

“In 2007  Yueshengzhai’s received recognition for processing techniques for braised mutton with soy sauce. Most noteworthy citing the high standards of guarding the quality of meals. An integral part of Beijing’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Source:

For more in-depth information featuring “The flavour of the capital” (Jingwei’r) click here on the China Heritage Newsletter link. The link includes an appendix with halal related snacks and dishes in Beijing. The food keeps drawing local devotees and visitors to the same place. With each visit renewing one’s palate is a feast of confirmation and merit reminiscent to old Peking.

One of the featured dishes is “Baodu” made from intestines and what I ate at my second visit to Beijing. The thin slices were meltingly tender and aromatic. Tripe if not cooked and seasoned correctly is unpalatable and rubbery. What surprised me was the hot-vinegary tart sauce and use of cumin. A spice which is not common in the south-eastern cuisine (my family originates from Zhejiang province). Cumin founds its way by caravan trade into China north-western regions Xinjiang, Mongolia and Hunan cuisine.

“BAODU 爆肚 (lamb tripe in sauce) 
This seared and thinly sliced delicate tripe is made from the washed stomach lining of the sheep. Prepared with a special sesame based sauce with flavour ingredients including cumin, pepper, chilli, vinegar. The dish is often accompanied with shaobing, a baked unleavened layered flat bread. Baodu originates from China’s north-west, it has come to find its home into the capital.”

1,000-year-old Copper Firepots

Among culinary centennial discovery was seeing and enjoying the copper chimney firepot “Huo Guo”. This cooking pot dates over 1,000 years with the origin being from Mongolia. Fuelled by charcoal heating the broth to a slow simmer with the smoke escaping through the chimney. China Northern cuisine is represented by the mutton hotpot by using sheep (lamb) bone stock as broth. Most of the copper chimneys have disappeared, replaced by digital electrical cooking pots.

The cooking pots with steaming hot broth have a variety of choices of basic Chinese meat, fish or seafood stock. Varying seasoning of MaLa (lip numbing hot!) or herbal infused and more. Will mention my favourite book choices in a separate post with recipes to prepare your own tasty & healthy hotpot dinner(s). Other cultural influences by neighbouring cuisines as Thai, Korean based stocks appear on the menu. A new cooking vessel is known as the YinYang or Double duck to serve a spicy and non-spicy version. This new design serves double broths, is a big hit as a home cooking utensil and restaurants serve ware.


Source courtesy and photo credit:

For our international readers the above serve ware can be ordered online, but for Dutch readers and foodies, both items are on sale at Chinese Supermarkets e.g. Dun Yong Amsterdam, Wah Nam Hong The Hague and Amazing Oriental in Rotterdam.

This post contains affiliate links by purchasing through these links Asianfoodtrail earns a small commission to support and maintain the website. However, you pay the same price for the item (it does not increase). Please note promoted links to products are purchased, used, tried and tested unless stated otherwise. For more information, read my disclaimer.

  1. “Time honoured shops” is the official translation of 老字号. A government distinction awarded to certain brand names and shops that have proven histories. Source: Book Unequal Englishes: The Politics of Englishes Today by R. Tupas
  2. China’s time-honored brands struggle to survive |
  3. The History of Chinese Imperial Food | Kaleidoscope-food culture -internet warning unsafe link malware
  4. Beijing Halal |
  5. A Taste of Old Peking: The Capital’s Culinary Culture Lives on in its Laozihao Restaurants |
  6. Mutton like no other |

Spicy Hare or Rabbit Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Who would have guessed at a food swap, having a great coffee talk I would end up joining wild game groups on the net and near the woods (no I don’t hunt). My curiosity has introduced me to otherwise unknown wild game gourmets of cooks and hunters.

It didn’t take too long to buy a fresh wild rabbit/hare directly from a hunter and before I arrived home I decided to prepare Sichuan style version. With the infamous dried peppers ‘Hua jiao‘ 花椒粒 and ‘La jiao’ 辣椒乾 (literal translation is flower pepper kernels and dried Sichuan chilli).

Both are very distinctive spices not easily replaced if you want to add a particular heat and aroma.

Hua jiao & La Jiao

Hua Jiao Flowerpepper and La Jiao Sichuan whole pepper


These ingredients are not common in supermarkets or deli stores. I have added the images for recognition. So you know what to search for at the Chinese supermarkets or Asian Toko’s.

Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil is an infused aromatic oil, made of grounded Sichuan chilli peppers (la jiao) and flower pepper (Hua jiao) to flavour the oil together with other spices. Used as a finish in many stir-fries, swirled on top of noodle soups and an integral part in marinades for spicy appetisers.

A part of my last batch ended up as food gifts so I need to refill and stock up my own pantry soon. Making the oil is not for the fainthearted because using and stir-frying peppers will release a very pungent sensation and can irritate the skin and eyes.

Conveniently store bought works as well, you can find these at the supermarkets/Toko’s. Shop for the standard Chilli oil look for an aromatic Sichuan version on the shelf.

Aromatic oils; Homemade SiChuan hot pepper chilli oil and Sesame oil

Aromatic oils; Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil and Sesame oil


Aromatic oils; Homemade Sichuan hot chilli oil and Sesame oil 

As with buying sesame oil, for advanced gourmet sleuths, they enjoy cooking with various oils for blending or cooking purposes. Buy small bottles once open use it quickly or it can turn rancid. Note of caution, sesame oil is not intended for frying, but only quick sauté for example to fragrance a dressing or sauce at the end of cooking.

Spicy Hare or Rabbit in Chinese Food Therapy

In my childhood rabbit meat was a staple ingredient and prepared by my parents in many dishes; stir-fries, stews, and herbal soups often paired with traditional Chinese medicine. The latter to make a tonic with the purpose of strengthening and nourishing the body. Cooking with Chinese herbs is about recuperating the body and rabbit meat is well known for its high protein content.

In Chinese dietic therapy; “According to TCM food, like medicine can be divided into the characteristics cold-hot-cool-warm. When applied correctly nutritional ingredients can help the patient to overcome an inclination to or even a manifested disease. Food used to aid and act as preventive part of a nourishing diet can achieve the same goal to strengthen recovery process”.

For more information on the use of tonics and food therapy, click on the links. Browse the internet for more in-depth TCM information and/or elaborate search on practices and belief system.

Rabbit or Hare meat is considered foods with warming qualities, high protein level and the temperature was cold. The more reason altogether to add spice in this wild game stir-fry dish bringing it all in balance.

A few days later I posted food pics of my Sichuan style cooked spicy hare dish just for fun between all other social media posts. The food pics picked up attention with a request to share the recipe and preparation method. Instead of a wild rabbit, hare, you can make this dish with other meats as well, for e.g. lamb would be very nice with the peppers, capsicum, and daikon (rettich/white carrot or aka daikon).

Here is the recipe link Spicy Hare stir-fry regional Sichuan style – Recipe.

#1 Asian Cuisine Wine Book favourite

With four Masters of Wine now living and residing in Asia, the first person to receive Master of Wine title was Jeannie Cho Lee MW. She is an award-winning author, television host, editor, wine critic, judge and educator based in Hong Kong.

Her pioneering #1 Asian Cuisine Wine book Asian Palate book 2009, explores wine and Asian food pairings. It has won many awards, including the Gourmand Award for Best Food and Wine Pairing Book in the World in 2010.

Her second book, Mastering Wine for the Asian Palate (2011), introduces a new set of Asian wine descriptors for major grape varieties and wine styles.


Visit her website Jeannie Cho Lee where authentic Asian Cuisines and wines are celebrated together; mastering wine, food trends, pairing guide and taste notes database are just a few highlights.

 "Savouring Asian Cuisine & Wine" by Jeannie Cho Lee MW

Asian Cuisine and Wine book favourite; Asian Palate by Jeannie Cho Lee MW

Jeannie has developed an Asian-oriented Food and Wine Wheel with wine recommendations for various southeast-Asian cuisines, which I ordered online directly through Jeannie Cho Lee website.

I genuinely can recommend her first book based on 5 valuable reasons. The content is exceptionally informative about the pairing of Asian cuisines with old and new world wines.

Reason #1 Asian Cuisine Wine Book

Why? It definitely is a first book, where Asian ingredients and terms are truly introduced to the language of wine.

The popularity of Asian cuisines rising up all over the world from fine dining to trending street food restaurant and food truck outlets. The use of typical sub-tropical ingredients showcasing native dishes.

A lot has been written and said about wine pairings with Asian cuisines, but never from an Asian point of view.

Reason #2 Focus on Asia

The Asian perspective, this book brings a wide-angled view focusing on Asian cuisines mentioning specifically ingredients in dishes and cooking styles.

Typical native ingredients tied to Asia which you will not come across Europe or other Western parts of the world.

Reason #3 Demonstrate dishes and considerations

Illustrating regional cuisines with wine consideration, recommendations and what to avoid. This by itself is significantly refreshing, instead of the boring and copied standard advice to choose for the outdated choice of sweet wines.

Reason #4 Eye seduction

Important to realise, as the wine is approached by appearance, nose and taste, the visual value is made by alluring food photography.  In effect seducing the eye and wetting the palate.

Appetising food photography of wine and Asian cuisine, along with snapshots of the location and introduction of the regional or national cuisine.

Reason #5 Asian Cuisine Wine book

Not the last or least reason, the value, this should have been on top but then it wouldn’t make any sense without the introduction. The western approach is often to match one wine with one dish, this is difficult in reality with food served on the Asian table.

A simple bowl of rice is often accompanied with at least 10 different dishes in Korea. A humble Chinese meal at least with 2 dishes and a soup not counting the small sides or a festive banquet dinner of many courses.

While a perfect pairing between an Asian meal and wine is often possible, Jeannie has identified among Asian wine and food lovers four key consideration: –versatility, umami character, intensity and quality – when matching Asian cuisines and wine. Jeannie Cho Lee MW.

Singapore is highlighted featuring the national poultry classic dish, here’s my Hainan Chicken post with the recipe. Or click for Thai famous beef salad Yum Nuea instead.


food and wine wheel - Asian Palate

Food & Wine wheel

She also collaborated with the German Wine Institute, launching the 52-page book in November 2011, for a full read here’s the article link: “Perfect Pairings: German Wines and Asian Flavours“.

The German Wine Institute Dutch brand office hosted a book launch event held in Amsterdam where Jeannie presented the book during luncheon with Dutch-Asian Chefs and Restaurateurs. I stumbled upon this online Dutch review article  Smaak van Wijn (Dutch readers only, no translated transcript).

For more information on how to obtain a book copy, visit the German Wines website. The site also offers an online shop with interactive web-based food and wine pairing tool with other helpful accessories.

Most importantly it has tonnes of information how to discover, experience and enjoy German Wines with wine travel tours and tips.

A video impression, watch The Deutsches Weininstitut (DWI), German Wine Institute


Chinese Top Chefs “modesty is a virtue”

For Chinese Top Chef’s “modesty is a virtue”, this is a high-minded and  a traditional behavior in Chinese societies. Celebrities Chefs who gained fame in the West through cooking tv shows are Ken Hom, Martin Yan, Kylie Kwong and Ching He Huang. And let’s not forget the productive and outstanding Chinese cookbook author; Deh Ta Hsiung just to name a few. But when readers are asked to name present Chinese Top Chefs in China, or a Chinese Top Chef nearby not much is known initially. With the aid of foodies culture, international awards and worldwide acknowledgements of International famous peers, public awareness is growing.

A wind of change is cooking up a storm of transformation with new Top Chinese Chefs gaining recognition and they are turning heads with creativity, combination of East meets West, high skills and innovation. In The Netherlands, The Hague well known Chef Han of Restaurant Hanting in BeiJing Chef Executive Chef Da Zhenxiang of famous Da Dong Restaurants two names and places on opposite sides of the globe.

“You cannot learn about Sichuan food in Beijing because it tastes different,” he says. “You have to go to Sichuan to taste the authentic food. This period was very tough because I only earned 19 kuai [a colloquial term for the yuan] each day and had to work hard to clean the kitchen, and buy presents for the sifu [master], hoping they would teach me something.”

While chefs such as Heston Blumenthal come to his restaurant to learn how to make Peking duck, Dong also spends time in other kitchens to pick up new skills and ideas. He spent a year learning French cooking techniques at the Maxim’s de Paris restaurant in Beijing.

In August, he went to Mongolia in search of wild mushrooms for new dishes. “The mushrooms naturally grow in circles in the grass, so I was inspired to also present them this way on the plate with flowers,” he says.” This article was first published in the South China Morning Post, to read more click on the linked article(s).

via Top Chinese chefs shun the spotlight | South China Morning Post.

Hainan Chicken tutorial step-by-step

For making Hainan Chicken Rice recipe click on the link. Buy fresh pandan leaves at Chinese supermarkets or frozen packages, if none available you can substitute with spring onion or young leeks. To handle the leaves for stuffing and cooking, tie 3-4 leaves into a knot as shown in the image here below.

Hainan Chicken Tutorial step-by-step photo overview

Fresh pandan leaves, great fragrance and vibrant colour

For us a distinct Hainan Chicken Rice flavour is steeping the stock with Pandan leaves, it enhances unique fragrance. My home recipe for Singaporean style how to teach my kids to cook this dish. Like any great dish, every Singaporean cook has its very own recipe. Suggestions for Chinese stock methods and variations or Hainan Chicken Rice – food chat trivia, click on the links. Luckily we all share one big secret ingredient.

“Love” to eat, create and share.

Preparing chickens; stuffing set

Preparing chickens; have everything set up and ready.

Don’t forget to remove the chicken fat at the rear side of the chicken

chicken fat

Remove chicken fat and set aside for use in stock or making chilli paste.

Salt and rub all over the chicken, scrub as you can see it exfoliates and smooth the skin

Rub chicken skin clean

After a good rub, the skin will look glossy and clean

Season the chicken in and outside with pepper and salt

Season the chickens

Season the chickens

Stuff cavity with whole garlic cloves, ginger slices followed by the pandan knots. This will prevent the stuffing from falling out and locks everything in for great aroma development.

Stuff chicken with herbs in cavity

Stuff chicken with herbs in cavity

Tie up the chicken legs, so it is easier to lift and lower the chickens into the stock.

tie up the chicken

Tie up the chicken with the packaged food elastic or butcher’s twine.

Chicken prepared, marinating time will do its work blending the flavours.

Marinate chicken 6-8 hours or overnight

Transfer the chicken to a container and marinate the chicken in the fridge for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the aromatics for stock and rice

Fry the chicken fat add ginger, garlic, Chinese wine, light soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil. Fill the pan with 4 litres of water.

Recipe Hainan Chicken Rice; poaching stock

Preparing Chicken broth

Bring to a rolling boil first, lower the chickens submerged in the liquid and turn the heat down to a simmer. With only a soft bubble on the surface, this manner is poaching the chickens.

Recipe Hainan Chicken Rice - whole chickens in stock

Whole chickens submerged in stock

Let the chicken poach in the stock for approximately 35-40 minutes, taste and add seasoning if needed. Put a lid on and turn off the heat. Let the chickens cool down in the poaching liquid

Hainan Chicken rice - plump rice kernels full of flavor

Hainan Chicken Rice – plump rice kernels full of flavour

Method 1: Wash 6 cups of rice and cook in cooled poaching stock for a fragrant rice with a light aroma.

Method 2: Fry chicken fat in 2 tablespoons of oil together with the smashed garlic and ginger till its golden brown and fragrant. Add the rice, keep stirring coating all the rice kernels with a thin layer of chicken fat oil. Add the rice wine while it sizzles keeps mixing, as soon as you smell fragrance lifting up this signals to add the poaching liquid to cook the rice. At the end when you fluff up the rice remove the aromatics.

Method 3: Make a rice paste first, by pounding the chicken fat, ginger and garlic together with seasonings. Then fry the paste into 3-4 tablespoons of oil for 3-4 minutes releasing an aroma. Add the rice and mix to coat the rice. Pour the stock with pandan leaves to cook till the rice is ready.

Of all three methods, the rice paste will be fully absorbed producing an intensified flavour to the chicken rice.

Hainan Chicken Rice almost ready

Lift the chicken up from the pan with the opening down to pour the cavity empty.

If you leave the skin on rub the chicken with ½-1 tablespoon sesame oil for extra aroma and a nice gloss. Fluff the rice pan and remove all the aromatics from the rice.

How to cut and dress the plate

Cut the chicken in serving portions

How to cut the chicken into serving portions

Cut off the chicken legs and remove the stuffing.


This way the cavity opened up more to take out the stuffing. Now remove off the chicken wings, cut away the backbone. And remove the chicken carcass by pulling it off the chicken meat.

Cut and remove the breasts

Cut and remove the breasts

Turn the breast, remove all the bones and cartilage, with the breasts up cut through the middle and slice it up in pieces.

Slice the breasts in portions

Cut each breast horizontally lengthwise, making it thinner and easier to cut equal portions,

Chop the legs with a cleaver through the bone or debone first. Remove and discard wing tip, chop in equal pieces.

Dress the plate

Dress the plate

With all the cutting done, scoop the rice onto the plate add the garnish.

If at a restaurant or shop, sometimes you will be asked which meat cut

Place a combination of sliced chicken breast or chopped chicken wing or juicy leg onto the plate

Add condiments

Add condiments; dark soy sauce, chilli hot-sour sauce (and minced ginger sauce).

Enjoy labour of love

Hainan Chicken Rice Plate – Let’s jiak! – Time to makan-lah :-).

As street food meal, a big bottle of ice-cold beer makes a great combination. In refined dining setting pairing with wine, I would opt for a Viognier. Why? It is a dry, medium-bodied with loads of fruit flavours. While enjoying have a look here at Singapore as your next stop.

What would you like to pair with this dish? Leave a comment of even better sent me a photo how you enjoy your meal. Cheers!!

  1. Chinese stock methods and variations
  2. Hainan Chicken Rice – food chat trivia

Chicken Broccoli easy stir-fry recipe

A request from TinYee for “What’s for dinner?”, how about a quick stir-fry tender chicken with broccoli florets flashing out of the wok onto a plate. Let’s not forget to write down the Chicken Broccoli easy stir-fry recipe and post it please :-).

If you’re cooking for a family or friends this is a healthy and tasty dish to serve on the table. Chinese stir-frying and Asian cooking is all about setting up for flash cooking.

Chicken Broccoli stir-fry recipe is an easy budget-friendly dish and a crowd pleaser. All the ingredients can be easily substituted with other meat cuts and greens in season. Pork, lamb, beef (even fish, see note) with vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, Pak Soi or Chinese cabbage. Versatile and ideal to mix vegetables of what is left in the refrigerator and needs to be finished


Quick, easy and economic no leftovers of ingredients, whether you cook Chicken Broccoli easy stir-fry for 4 persons or make 4 meals ahead for your weekly meal plan. Start with the preparation, cutting up the ingredients in bite-size pieces. Season the thinly sliced meat quickly set aside. blanch the vegetables and quickly into an ice-bath. Have all other seasoning bottles and jars ready to grab and heat up the wok.

Cut up broccoli florets or other vegetables in equal bite-size pieces. Blanch the vegetables, short and quickly into an ice-bath. This will stop the cooking process. Have all other seasoning bottles and jars ready to grab and heat up the wok.

Chicken broccoli easy stir-fry recipe


Check the fridge if other ingrediënts can be chopped into the dish too. This help clearing and finishing into a colourful and healthy cooked meal. When stir-frying always add the hardest/toughest ingredients first and soft ingredients last into the wok.

Another Chinese stir-fry recipe is Flat beans with ground pork and bean sauce or try seafood suggestion Thai Red Curry Mussels Recipe.

Cooking notes:

  • This recipe is suitable to adapt for Keto, Paleo and diabetes diet.
  • For soy sauce gluten free options:
    • soy sauce choose tamari sauce (wheat free) as the closest substitution
    • Bragg liquid amino (purist would say nay because it’s not made with a natural fermentation but chemical process instead)
    • Coconut amino (a healthy soy substitute, made from coconut sap. It has a salty, slightly sweet flavour and is rich and dark in colour)
    • fish sauce (made from fermented fish/seafood although it is different it tastes as good). If there are none dietary restriction I often use both in cooking.
    • home-cook experiment, make your own instead. Will follow up soon with a discovery post.
  • Cooking oil
    • Olive oil use light, extra virgin is too heavy and will carry an after taste.
    • Sesame oil is only used for flavouring at the end, not intended for stir-frying, it burns too quickly and becomes bitter.
    • Coconut oil is mostly used in Keto and Paleo cooking.
  • Chicken seasoning powder in principle should be gluten free or use a vegetable powder as substitute
  • For vegan diet:
    • use fresh tofu
    • dried compressed soy flavour tofu
    • Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
    • Okara, when I make fresh soy milk the leftover soybean pulp is called Okara. Very nutritious and versatile to make pancakes or burgers.
    • Quorn
    • You can also buy a large variety mock soy meat packages at Chinese supermarkets.
  • Instead of meat, you can also substitute with fish fillets too. Coat the pieces in corn flour and fry them first, take out, continue with the recipe and add when almost done.
  • Cornstarch is what I standard use, next tapioca starch and tapioca flour or arrowroot.
  • Mushroom sauce (vegetarian) and oyster sauce are both used as extra flavour seasonings or omit.



World’s first Chinese Chef to earn 3 Michelin stars

World’s first Chinese Chef Chan Yan Tak, who earned 3 Michelin stars is in Hong Kong, Four Season’s Hotel Fine Dining at Cantonese restaurant “Lung King Heen (View of the Dragon).

Lung King Heen, fine dining, Four Season in Hong Kong

The restaurant is located on the 4th floor with a modern classic interior offering an absolutely spectacular view across Victoria Harbour, during the day the City’s skyline and in the evening glowing harbour lights. If you would like to plan a visit and experience the Fine dining you must make a reservation well in advance, especially if you opt for window seating.

Cantonese Restaurant Lung King Heen Harbour view


In 2010, the restaurant’s homemade XO sauce was listed as the ‘Best condiment’ on the Hong Kong Best Eats 2010 list compiled by CNN Travel.

Lung King Heen was added to Forbes Travel Guide‘s list of 5 stars restaurants in January 2014.

Update: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 ranking #17

Articles &  Reviews:

  • What are these delicacies reviewers are raving about which Chef Chan Yan Tak and his team prepare and serve, have an enticing look on their Pinterest board here.
  • Foursquare fans and foodies, read raving tips use this link.
  • Japan travel enthusiast, for info and review, click at here.
  • Hong Kong Tattler Dining recent review January 2014, read the full article here.

Hainan Chicken Rice – foodie chat trivia

Last weekend I went out to shop for pork belly, but the butcher shop closed earlier than I had expected. Ended up at the local Moroccan halal butcher, buying entirely different ingredients. Came home with two fresh Halal broilers to prepare Hainan Chicken Rice 海南鸡反 for dinner. A family favourite dish with loads of stories attached, where to go to sample and taste, and company who joined. Asians habitually talk about food, so everyone chimes in to share at the table with fellow travellers and foodies.

Once upon a time… of course it’s not a fairy tale, but this dish has a long history. An old saying “Whoever wants to go to China must cross the Seven Seas” opening up food chat trivia with many questions and even more answers. This Chinese dish must have accompanied Admiral Zheng He with his treasure fleet on his expeditionary voyages. Throughout south-, south-east Asia all the way till the east coast of Africa from 1405 till 1433. Diaspora of Chinese communities emerged far from home with immigrants bringing with them their skills and reminders of home in preparing comfort food.

Let’s jump forward in time, across the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the 19th century first immigrants arrived known in American history as Chinese railroad workers. Sailing the opposite direction over the Atlantic Ocean, the first Chinese seamen arrived in The Netherlands in 1911. This time frame and distance show a glimpse of a long history; it explains how widespread early Chinese peasant cooking has caught on all continents and the adaptability of Chinese dishes to local taste.

Hainan Chicken Rice

This famous dish named after a Chinese sub-tropical island 海南岛 in the South China Sea, where a local dish prepared with the main ingredient “Wencheng Chicken” originates. Long after the first immigrants, the present dish is still named as Hainan Chicken Rice. Recognised for its simplicity, aromatic rice and the tender poached chicken it remains a favourite dish trending on top of many food lists with fans in- and outside south-east Asia. Singapore proudly lists as one of their national dishes, available at almost every street corner coffee shop called Kopitiam, food courts, hotels and even highlights on Singapore Airline menu.

If you have travelled throughout this region e.g. Taiwan, HongKong, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, you will recognise a resembling chicken dish. In taste and presentation slightly different as influenced by available produce and local taste. Hong Kong has it’s own cooking style and their way of preparation gained popularity as Pak Kai or BaiJi, 白鸡, also resulting in succulent meat cuts.

The Thai variation is known as Khao man kai, in Vietnam, it is called Com Ga Hai Nam. Every mouthful of Chicken & Rice are as good as the source dish, most importantly it shares the same characteristic of poached succulent chicken meat and fragrant broth.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is about simplicity

Chicken – Traditional Hainan free-range Wencheng chicken feed is with coconut and peanut shells. The adopted Singaporean national dish version is claimed prepared best with a Kampung chicken (Ayam Kampung means free-range village chickens, common in Indonesian and Malaysian). Home in The Netherlands I have prepared this dish with corn-fed free-range chicken, broilers and cut chicken parts, foremost it needs to be fresh.

In all fairness, during the week I will buy supermarket cuts or broilers, but for this dish, I will opt for a poultry butcher. To buy specialities such as Bresse Chicken from France very flavoursome and worth the cooking effort to prepare a particular dish. A rare, the only bird with an A.O.C. a national quality label of origin. Once plucked the chicken are all naked and look the same (right?), but the Bresse chickens have blue feets. A slightly cheaper option is the free range Dutch corn-fed Kemper chicken, very tender and tasty meat. You can easily recognise a corn fed chicken by its yellow-orange skin and when cooked the meat flavour differs from a battery or factory production.

BROILER: A meat chicken processed at the age of 7-12 weeks when it reaches 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds live weight. Historically Broilers were marketed as birds ranging 1 to 2 ½ lbs.

fresh broiler chickens, Hainan Chicken Rice

Halal broilers

Cooking technique: Use the stock for poaching the chicken, with all the extracted aromas the broth can be used to cook the rice. Served as clear soup accompanying the dish or reserved liquid used for flavourings of stir-fry dishes. Click for “Chinese stock methods” on the highlighted link.

Hainan Chicken - Poaching Chicken legs

Poaching Chicken legs – Hainan Chicken

Chicken fat – Chicken fat is used to stir-fry the rice first or made into a paste with additional spice and herbs, to enhance the flavour and then add the stock with ginger, garlic (and optional adding of pandan leaves and other herbs). Use the chicken fat in making the original Singaporean style chilli dip-sauce (if I use a whole chicken I pull out the chicken fat especially to make a big batch, for taste it is worth the trouble of preparing the chilli dip).

Chicken fat

Remove chicken fat and use a rice paste or chilli paste as dipping sauce

Accompaniments – dipping sauces

By looking at the various dipping’s you can retrace the serving country;

  • Hainan the dish is accompanied with typical oyster sauce and minced garlic, along with chilli dip and finely minced ginger with a bit of green onion (shortly heated in oil to draw out flavour and sharpness without darkening).
  • Singapore a customary hot chilli paste sauce (consisting of minced peppers, lime juice with chicken fat, chicken broth, garlic & ginger), along with pounded ginger served with dark soy sauce. Recent years the Thai Sriracha sauce has become a very popular condiment, due to its close spicy sourness and garlicky taste.
  • Hongkong has lime/lemon juice added to the ginger, next to a hot chilli sauce.
  • Thailand a sauce mix made with yellow soybean paste, thick soy sauce, chilli, ginger, garlic and vinegar instead.
  • Vietnam serves the accompanying sauce mix made of salt, pepper, lime juice and fresh chilli (use of fish sauce too).

Rice – Standard cooked white rice is just what it is plain rice. The chicken rice uses a rice paste with chicken fat for intense aromatic flavour. The stock included a variety of fresh herbs; it influences a different result as in soup or cooked rice. If you add Pandan leaves it enhances the grass fragrance, combine or interchange with lemon grass and galangal (aka blue ginger, Leng Kua/Laos, Kham, etc.) for a more defined citrus aroma. Have the pandan leaves combined with coconut milk (and lemon grass) to make Nasi Lemak another fragrant and traditional rice dish.

Hainan Chicken cooked rice

Hainan Chicken Rice either cooked with rice paste or poaching stock.

Hainan Chicken Rice assembly

Hainan Chicken Rice assembly – remove herbs from the rice – cut up the chicken

Almost ready to assemble our Hainan Chicken Rice plates – Singapore style. You can easily recreate this dish, for more information click on “Chinese stock methods” or “Hainan Chicken tutorial” or recipe post.

Chinese stock methods and variations

Preparing Chinese chicken stock, often a whole chicken is used in recipes. Poultry butchers or supermarket, just choose your preferred cut if you rather like using chicken legs/chops or breast fillets.  You need to watch and adjust the cooking time, however when you can do try an organic corn fed chicken for a flavour range discovery.

Preparing poaching chickens

Seasoning poaching chickens

For a photo overview, click on this link for Hainan Chicken Rice step-by-step or start with the recipe. Here I share my method of poaching and stock variations for different results in flavour and taste with a variety of used ingredients.

Broth method to poach:  In this recipe, I use the whole chicken (chicken fillets or fish fillets), flavoured with Pandan leaves (or in the photo below a bunch of spring onion) garlic, ginger, Chinese wine and dash of pepper, bring to a boil. Add the chicken wait for the broth to come back to boil, turn down the heat, adjusting the level where you can see bubble’s breaking through the surface.

For poaching, it is important to keep the heat near boiling point. The chicken is lightly salted and peppered, cavity stuffed with leek, spring onion or pandan leaves, garlic & ginger slices then submerged into the stock.

Try a variation of oriental herbs and spices (as with court bouillon), this will guarantee a good flavour base and incorporates flavour. Poaching remains and accentuates a burst of flavour impact.

Cook for  15-20 min then turn the heat off it will cook in the residual heat remaining tenderness (if 1-2 chicken fillets only 10-12 min turn down the fire and let it cool in the stock).

Cooking time may vary due to the weight and size of chicken, chicken breast, legs or wings make adjustments accordingly. Rule of thumb, check for an internal temperature reaching 73° C(this level eliminates bacteria) max. 75º C never below!

Another poaching method is to place a double hook under the wings of the bird to slowly submerge into the boiling stock. When the bubbles subside pull out let the stock come back to a rolling point, submerge again and repeat 3-4 times till the meat is done.

Poaching chicken legs

Poaching chicken legs

Preparing stock method: A standard stock uses pork bones and chickens carcases, which is stronger with more gelatin and intenser taste. Set a pot on the stove with cold water and the bones. Bring to a rolling boil, turn heat down to mid fire and remove all the greyish scum (blood and proteins) which floats up.

Keep skimming the surface constantly. After 35-40 min removes the bones or as soon the grey scum subsides, clear the water. Start frying the chicken fat (if not enough or none available use a bit of lard, this is all for taste). Fry slices of ginger, garlic and spring onion.

Add Chinese cooking wine, salt & pepper as soon as it all releases its aroma add water enough to cover it all this is the base.

To make stronger infused stocks and stews at this point, you can add the following spices e.g. cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, cloves etc roast them first to release their aromas. Using spices in food to enhance flavour also adds a powerful antioxidant puch.

Submerge whole chicken in the stock, depending on size and meat with bones or boneless for 15-45 minutes watching the colour changing from pink to milky white. With time experience will increase to recognise the various stages in the cooking process.

After cooking time has finished lift carefully chicken up and pour the cavity empty into the pan. Plunge the chicken directly into an ice-cold water bowl. This stops the cooking process keeping tender meat with a jelly-like (pale-yellowish) skin. Finish with a final rub using a bit of sesame oil for shine and taste.

Traditionally the cut up chicken meat (Bai Ji) was served with the bone still colouring a tiny bit of red, while the meat is perfectly cooked fully white without any trace of pink meat. You know when the cook kept a close eye because too long means it has lost its tenderness resulting in dry and hard meat.

poaching whole chickens

Submerging whole chickens in poaching stock for 30 min, turn off the fire and with the lid on let it cool down in the stock

Herbal stewing method – a stock filled with medicinal Chinese herbal ingredients and seasonings to extract medicinal qualities. Often in a separate container referred as a “double boiling jar”.

The soup in the double jar is cooked in a pan filled with water, this is a Chinese cooking method called double-boiling. It cooks through the heat of the water and not the original heat source (a bit like puddings in a hot water bath).

Not to be confused with steaming. The double jar keeps all flavour, nutrients and essence all locked in while being cooked for several hours for extraction. This cooking method is mainly used for high regarded medicinal herbal ingredients (often expensive) and/or preparing soup tonics for strength and healing purposes. A step-by-step photo post will follow soon focusing on this technique.

Steaming method – Chicken is chopped in pieces and marinated. Traditional the plate is placed in a wok (or a wide saute pan) on an elevated stand filled with rolling boiling water and a dome lid on top for full circulation of steam. Spread chicken pieces in a single layer on a platter surrounded with other ingredients as vegetables.

Steam approximately 10-12min for chicken breast (thickness may influence steaming time). Using a steam cooking equipment or a rice cooker makes this, even more, easier with automatic settings no need to watch the clock and water level.  When the temperature reaches 74º Celsius/15-20min it is done.

Stove pot/pan method: Without a thermometer keep a close eye to the chicken bones, the meat turns from opaque to white and when the bone has turned light brown, the meat is cooked. However, if the bone turns dark brown in colour it means overdone, still good in flavour but less tender meat.

Stock use characteristics:

Preparing nutritious homemade stock or broth is gaining popularity due to an unbeatable flavour.

  1. Poaching broth for chicken with the liquid often used in stir-fry dishes or a light clear (tea) soup.
  2. To cook the rice in the stock or the traditional way by first stir-frying chicken fat with ginger and garlic. As soon as it releases aroma add the rice while stirring coating the kernels all around (or use a pack Hainan Chicken rice paste). Add the stock and cook the rice till it is done.
  3. As soup base for various type of noodle soups.
  4. As soup base
Hainan Chicken rice

Hainan Chicken rice flavoured with chicken stock or paste.

Serving of Chicken Rice: The Chicken is nicely cut in easy chopstick size with sliced cucumber and tomato complementing the meal. Served with a bowl of clear soup broth sprinkled with green onions or a bit of coriander on top. Accompanying dipping sauces; spicy chilli with ginger paste and dark soy sauce.

For other serving style suggestions and information, read Hainan Chicken Rice foodie chat trivia post.

Stock base variations:

Standard Chinese stock base – boil water add 4-5cm ginger and a whole bulb of garlic (quantities may vary according to weight and personal preferences, but this is what I use for a whole chicken). Additions of Pandan leaves, leek/green onion, Chinese wine, black pepper, use of light soy sauce (dark soy sauce is for colouring the stock more than flavour use sparingly).

Chinese herbal stocks – the above with Chinese herbs to infuse the broth into a tonic to improve and strengthen the functioning of the body or increase the feeling of well-being. Most Chinese households carry their own favourite combination of herbs to aid, but Chinese herbs with medicinal qualities are widely available at Chinese Supermarkets and of course Chinese pharmacies in Chinatown or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices.

In Taiwan at the Shilin Night Market there’s a famous stall for 十全汤 literally translated “ten complete soup”, customers would line up every night. The making of this herbal soup starts during the day and simmers for hours impregnating the air filled with herbal fragrance, just smelling would flock customers through the whole evening and night.

TCM practice believes bone broth nourishes our kidneys, supports our “chi” (life essence) and builds blood. Here is a link with informative facts including other recipes “Bone broth for health building” by Jade Institute. Cooking with bone broth especially with pork trotters will make a very good dish and soup stock, in our regional cooking the cooled stock turn gelatinous and is another favourite way to be eaten cold known as “dong jiao” 东郊.

South-east Asian stock base – the above with additions of less ginger or none, with galangal, lemongrass, peppers or bird-eye chillies (hot), few leaves of kaffir lime leaves. Definitely a base for e.g. Thai Thom Yam soups or with the addition of spices as for making Vietnamese Cahn’s.

Meat or Vegetarian stock base –  with or without bones it often has onion, celery, carrots (and leeks). Enrich to get more taste is making use of bouquet-garni as in French cooking, a bundle of herbs traditionally comprises of bay leaf, thyme, parsley. Or an Italian herb mix of basil, oregano, rosemary and sage.

Blanching bones – Set up a pan with cold water add the whole chicken or other parts. The process of blanching chicken, pork meat and/or bones is to remove all impurities (blood and proteins solidify in froth or scum when heated) by skimming the surface and removing it will result in a clear instead of a cloudy stock. When cooking with pork bones I will change water definitely, with chicken it depends on the final dish. If fast and quick, I constantly skim the surface removing all scum till its clear and use the broth to continue or add ingredients for stock making process.

Click on the links for Hainan Chicken Rice step-by-step photo tutorial, background information foodie chat trivia and recipe. By preparing the poaching liquid and making your own stock, most of the work is done. If you have any remarks or questions, please leave your comment here under or send me an e-mail.