Thanks for the write-up! I now know not to bother trying Tasty Food. I’ll have to try Side Chick again, as it sounds like they may have improved a bit.
As to the temperature issue, in Singapore you will find it served chilled. I’m not sure about “ice cold” but definitely refreshingly cool. If you ever had a chance to try Grainivore when they were here, that was as close to an authentic preparation as I’ve seen.
Thanks. I missed the chance to try Grainivore; I didn’t even remember our old board talking about (very sad I missed it).
Chicken. Rice. Sauce. Just 3 elements. But like your journey it is hard to find all 3 of these elements done very well on 1 plate. Some places have better ____ but the ____ is not that good.
Flock & Fowl and Little Fatty up next?
Little Fatty’s version is decent, but I dream of a Flock & Fowl opening up in Los Angeles.
I think the best Hainan Chicken Rice in SoCal is actually in the OC at Baos Hog.
Not just in LA, in Northern California literally easier to pull hen’s teeth than to find a properly done Hainan style Chicken Rice with all the right components. We have access to variations in mixed forms and results such as
- sometimes characterized by rice a roni looking very yellow rice, but a lot of chicken and stock flavor
- More darker yellow looking chicken skin, using Cantonese “empress chicken” and call it a day (sometimes this works better than the BS fake Hainan chicken options)
- a variant of a seasoned poached chicken, being passed off as Hainan Chicken Rice
- one dipping sauce (not three) and usually they nail this down right which is the ginger scallion sauce, ubiquitous at Cantonese roasties deli shops (but even doing a good rendition of this is not as prevalent these days).
- in SF Bay Area sometimes you can find a few Hong Kong cafe’s that do it better
- looks like Hainan Chicken, but is resting in a pool of soy sauce base liquid that overwhelms the chicken, sometimes over decoration with something that looks like parsley with at times thick cucumber slices, ranges from edible (and if you set expectations very low) to forget it
- mostly Central Vietnamese style restaurants, look for Com Ga Hai Nam and generally these renditions are the most superior, at least in San Jose area, and you can even get versions with giblets (incredibly gamey livers though). One theory is that they use and source more natural tasting chicken, raised by local Vietnamese chicken farmers (not all of the restaurants, maybe a few) which is why they stand out all from the rest in terms of flavor and texture. And it works for what they do.
Thai restaurants (or Khao Mun Gai specific eateries)
- there has been an unhealthy obsession with Khao Mun Gai last couple years (less so this year as the fad has faded a little in terms of hype), largely in part thanks to tech bro funding which turned a humble street dish into “fast but not efficient” food, like bento boxes. Hence you get poached and fried chicken versions and other funktastic combinations. Those who have not traveled or have eaten extensively might find it acceptable and while it certainly fills a niche and stomach space, is not destination chicken rice dining material.
Truth be told, I’ll take a plate of Ming Kee (San Francisco) soy sauce chicken rice plate anyday instead of any of the above, or double down and do empress chicken x soy sauce chicken rice plate with ginger scallion sauce, or 3 meat combo and throw in some pork, duck. Satisfaction level through the roof!
This. So much this.
I had never heard of Flock & Fowl before, thanks for the recommendation. I didn’t know Little Fatty did a version also. Thanks.
Is Flock & Fowl your favorite in the U.S.?
Thanks for the great info about Northern California spots; sounds like it’s pretty mediocre up there as well.
We loved the visit to Ming Kee (thank you again!) and yes, their Soy Sauce Chicken (with Ginger & Scallion Sauce) or the Pork Neck Charsiu or Roast Duck was so good!
Maybe one day we’ll get a version that matches what you all love about the Singaporean version.
Flock and Fowl is Vegas based. It’s done well and chicken is a touch more cooked than Cluck2go.
Ming Kee is one of my favorite places. They truly deserve more praise for what they are doing. Nobody to my knowledge in CA is doing HK BBQ this well (maybe the country??) I’ll take Ming Kee over a lot of things tbh.
Yet most of the customers are Canto locals and Chinese college students.
This debate begs the question; what is everyone’s benchmark for authentic Hainan chicken rice? There are subtle regional differences in Asia.
For example this typically how it’s served in Malaysia - doused in lightly sweetened light soy sauce and topped with cilantro (and scallions). No toppings (fried garlic or scallions) over the rice. Ginger sauce, a very watery chili sauce and dark soy sauce.
And similar in Singapore it appears (pic of Chen Ji Hainanese Chicken Rice)
@Chowseeker1999 relatively easy solution to solve your chicken rice dilemma:
Rice: Poach a whole chicken with sliced ginger and generous amount of scallions. Saute minced garlic, ginger with chicken fat. Add broth from poached chicken, sauteed mixture, 2 generous pinches of salt to rice and cook. Or just add this to rice
Chicken: Purchase a
princessEmpress (Kwai fei) chicken from your favorite roastie or Sea Harbor, Elite etc. Chop ala preferred chicken rice presentation
Sauces: Request some ginger/scallion sauce from #2.
Dilute with water and lime. Or look for these bottled options
If you want to extend this Hainan Chicken Rice journey to include the Thai version than give some of these places a try…
Sanamluang (anyone tried their Khao Man Gai?)
I think the sauce at LAX-C is great. Incredibly balanced in sweet, salty, gingerly, and garlicky flavors. And that to-go table might just be one of the best in LA. The rice is slightly fragrant and the chicken is moist (not fancy).
The problem lies in the execution of many Malaysian restaurants in Northern California, and frankly with the restaurants being jack of all trades themselves being part of the issue. I am not taking jabs on the native renditions in their respective homelands, just how they are done over here. Part of being a jack of all trades restaurant means it’s easier to take shortcuts and pay less attention to detail (versus being a specialist restaurant or eatery, or in the case of in SE Asia, a cooked food stall specialist), and this could happen for a various number of reasons.
And I have yet to meet a Singaporean or Malaysian expat in SF Bay Area extolling the virtues of our Jack of All Trades restaurants (let alone Jack in a Khao Mun Gai Tech Bro Hipster Chicken box…)
With the Chen Ji picture, you still see the chicken look the same the way it is, and the sauce is no doubt a chicken broth base with seasoning. However some of the Malaysian restaurants up here literally have it bathing or marinating in a much darker and murkier (and ominous looking) liquid where the meat is stained from the dark broth, and looks nothing like Chen Ji’s chicken. The worst is that some renditions actually taste dry and reheated, and they pour more sauce on top! The Malaysian example you posted looks more like Empress Chicken Cantonese style, so much cleaner in comparison.
Using the Ming Kee example, why do the roasties taste so damn good compared to other Canto BBQ roasties joints in town? Owner and master roaster/butcher Ming is an OG Hong Konger (vs Toishanese from Southern China for many other places) and he obviously trained classically. The recipes and execution speak for themselves. Ming Kee is not a jack of all trades place, they just do roasties and for those who want rice plates, scoop of rice, boiled cabbage, condiments and that’s it (basically adding accessories and options beyond the specialties). And they are also supported by a steady stream of locals mostly for take out. Higher turnover, and roasting happens multiple times per day. It’s a much simpler business model in a way that perpetuates itself. Using a competitor example locally: Cheung Hing (Northern California SF Bay Area) on the other hand has a few locations around and has expanded to do Canto Jack style menu in the Peninsula…aggressive and ambitious…with little regard to consistency and sometimes quality becomes roller coaster.
Hmmmmmm… reminds me of…
thoughtfully executed as usual. my rankings differ, but a chacon son gout.
i was hoping to see dong nguyen & red chicken included.
Props to you - that’s a lot of poached bird. The number of expats from Singapore and Malaysia seems to be small and like a revolving door - of those that arrive, many return after a while.
I think this lack of a “critical mass” speaks to the small number of eateries offering food from that part of Asia. The economies over there have been relatively strong over the past four decades.
Furthermore, Singapore offers a very secure social contract with its citizens. Healthcare and their form of social security (Central Provident Fund, Employee Provident Fund in MY) are comparitively strong and flexible. The currency exchange rates are a major consideration as well (particularly for Malaysians).
And Singapore in particular is probably the safest nation in the world - Singaporeans feel very insecure here (this probably explains why a core population of Singaporean expats formed in Irvine of all places back in the 80s-90s).
These issues make moving to the LA hard and easier to consider moving back. But I think the linchpin issue is the lack of depth, breadth and quality of food options familiar to expats from that region. That revolving door of this particular expat population is a self-fulfilling consequence -
sparse offerings of average food.
We were very underwhelmed with the acar as well. I think M&G’s version is generally Indonesian. The typical Malysian version has an orange tone in the pickling liquid - turmeric and candlenuts add the flavor that was missing for us in this version. But we found the other dishes (including the chicken/rice) to be very good in general. It was the noise level in this place that makes me not want to return.
Thanks @Sgee for the recipe to make it at home.