The apparent simplicity of Hainanese chicken rice is what makes it an addictive comfort food. It looks like simple steamed chicken and with fatty, chicken stock-cooked rice but is so fecund in people’s memories at it is impossible to begin to judge it. There are objectively bad plates of chicken rice replete with ropy strands of fowl; dry, stock-free rice and the umami-punch of MSG. What makes the perfect plate is harder to define. Certainly, moistness and tastiness of the bird plays a part, but can it be too moist? Some come served with a bonus small bowl of thin stock. Is this essential and should it be judged separately?
Each region puts its own twist on the recipe. The above plate is Melaka’s version, served with golf-ball shaped spheres of rice. Some places serve the chicken over rice, others present the components on separate plates. It is important to eat both some rice and some chicken in each mouthful, but when do you eat the thin bowl of stock that comes alongside the plate? I tend to eat it Cambodian-style, dipping a spoonful of rice into it, which in Malaysia, probably makes me look cretinous.
See also: Robyn and Dave at EatingAsia seek out the origins of chicken ball rice.
For chicken rice with balls: Hoe Kee, Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Walk), Melaka (Malacca), Malaysia.