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10 Differences between Chicken Rice in Singapore and Hainan China

Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice
ok.... everyone knows that Singapore's Hainanese chicken rice originally came from Hainan island (in China)... .

Have you ever been curious about what chicken rice is like back in Hainan? and is there any difference between chicken rice in Singapore and in Hainan itself? I did wonder lor... 🤔

I heard it said many times that Hainanese chicken rice as we know it in Singapore does not exist in Hainan. It turns out they are indeed different but maybe not as different as I had thought at first.

Let's start with the name - even the name is different.

Pink denotes Wenchang. Image credit: Wikipedia
In Singapore, the dish is known as Hainanese chicken rice 海南鸡饭 (because it came from Hainan). In China and in Hainan, the dish is known as Wenchang chicken æ–‡æ˜Œé¸¡ (because it comes from Hainan's Wenchang county).

No one in China and Hainan calls the dish Hainanese chicken rice. No one in Singapore calls the dish Wenchang chicken 🤷‍♂️

Image credit: Researchgate (citation link not working)
Then, the bird.

In Hainan, if it is not the Wenchang breed of chicken, it is not the Wenchang chicken dish. That's that.

The Wenchang breed of chicken is raised in Wenchang county (specifically in Tan Niu town 潭牛镇) for at least 400 years. It is a small bird, plump, and rotund like a ball as its body is round while its head is small, neck short, wings small, legs short, feet small. 

The birds roam free for 120 days, feeding on figs that fall from Bayan trees, insects, worms and whatever they can find in the grass. The next 60 days, they are kept in coops and fatten on a mixture of sweet potato, crushed peanut, rice husk etc. A small frame bird, a full grown Wenchang chicken ready for market is 1.5kg, 1.8kg at the most.

In Hainan, if it is not Wenchang chicken, then it is not Wenchang chicken. No two ways about it.

Uncle Niven from Singapore's famous Sin Kee Chicken Rice
Over in Singapore, we ain't so particular about the breed. So we have live birds from Malaysia and frozen birds from around the world like USA and Brazil. Any chicken breed will do though Hainanese chicken rice hawkers usually prefer larger birds of above 2kg weight as it has more flavour 🐔

In Hainan, the bird is cooked by a combination of dunking, poaching or simmering it in water and in stock with ginger and spring onion at low heat. The idea is to cook the bird to just the right doneness without overcooking it. The meat is kept tender and juicy, and all its natural sweet flavours intact.


In Singapore, it is the same - dunk, poach, simmer in low heat. But, many chicken rice hawkers take an additional step to steep the cooked bird in cold water or ice and water. The idea is to cool the bird quickly to prevent overcooking by its residual heat, and also to tighten the skin, locking in the juices and flavours. It also makes the skin smoother and slightly crunchier to the bite.

The cold bath produces a layer of congealed fat like jelly under the skin. (In Hainan, the Wenchang chicken is just air cooled.)


In Singapore, the poached bird is often also deep fried.


In fact, deep fried chicken have consistently outsold "white chopped" chicken ç™½åˆ‡é¸¡ or ç™½æ–©é¸¡ in Singapore nowadays 🤷‍♂️

Differences-between-Chicken Rice-Singapore-and-Hainan

I hope "white chopped" chicken don't become an endangered species in Singapore 😓

It's a beauty, isn't it? Wenchang chicken photo with thanks to Ben Lim
In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is only done "white chopped". Period.

Ming Kee Chicken Rice Singapore
In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is served chopped in large chunky pieces with skin and bones intact.

In Singapore, most stalls serve Hainanese chicken in a similar way, chopped in large chunks with skin and bones intact. But, many stalls now offer deboned / boneless options.

Some also have skinless option and others even serve "healthy" boneless, skinless as default 😱🤦‍♂️

AFE Delights Boneless Chicken Rice
In Singapore, the chicken meat is served splashed with a savoury sweet dressing sauce. Every stall have their own unique blend - it is usually some combination of light soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, peanut oil, etc.

In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is never served with dressing sauce. Always served neat.


In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is eaten with 油饭 "oil rice". It is made by sautéing grated ginger and garlic with chicken fat to release the aromas. Raw rice grains are then stir fried in the aromatic oil to dry it and infuse it with aromas and flavours. Chicken stock is then poured in and the rice is cooked in it.

In Singapore, "oil rice" is cooked in a similar way but lemongrass and pandan leaf is usually added as these aromatic grasses are plentiful and inexpensive. Lemongrass and pandan leaf really lift the taste and smell of the "oil rice" to the next level 🍚

In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is also sometimes served with plain boiled rice. In Singapore, Hainanese chicken rice must be served with "oil rice", otherwise it is not considered chicken rice at all 😮

In Hainan, Wenchang chicken is eaten with dips made of grated garlic, ginger and light soy sauce. Sometimes, chicken stock is added. A squeeze of zesty sourish calamansi juice is usually added.

Chicky Fun Halal Chicken Rice
In Singapore, there are more variations in dips. Grated ginger, chili sauce, dark soy sauce etc. Hainanese chicken rice hawkers have different combinations of calamansi, white vinegar, different types of chili peppers etc to try and make their dips stand out from their competitors.

This video is a bit shaky and unpolished but it gives an unembellished look at what authentic Wenchang chicken is like in Wenchang, Hainan itself.

History of Singapore Chicken Rice. Image credit: National Archives of Singapore


What is Wenchang chicken?

Date: 15 May 2020

1 comment:

  1. Wow...thank you for writing this. I always wonder if the Chicken rice in China is the same as in Singapore and Malaysia. LOL!


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