Famous food of Hainan

The food specialties on Hainan island are different from the Hainanese cuisine we get here.

THE Hainanese chicken rice that you get at most restaurants isn’t made according to the original recipe, I was told by several people whom I had interviewed. The chicken rice you get contains a lot of margarine, which shouldn’t be the case. The original way of cooking Hainanese chicken rice is to first stir-fry the uncooked rice with garlic. The chicken itself is filled with crushed ginger before boiling. And everything is cooked using the stock and broth made from the chicken.

The Hainanese chicken rice, with its boiled chicken, may be the ubiquitous Hainanese dish, with some Singaporeans laying claim to it as their “national dish”. There are many more dishes that are part of the Hainanese cuisine – yam duck, mutton stew, assam fish, curry kapitan, among others. There is also the inchee kaybin (sometimes also spelled as inche kabin), which is fried chicken that is crunchy on the outside but soft and juicy on the inside, served with prawn crackers.

As Charles Wong of Hainanese Delights explained to me, in means “to marinate”, chee means “to fry”, kay is “chicken” and bin means “slices.” Other names, such as “curry kapitan”, may have resulted from someone mishearing a cook’s answer to a query by his colonial master (“Curry, captain!”).

Famous Western dishes that have been modified by the Hainanese chefs include chicken chop, chicken pie and even pizza. Some of the elderly caretakers of Fraser’s Hill, I was told, make marmalade and scones that are so famous, visitors from other countries return time and again to seek them out.

Others, like Joe Hoo of Ping Wah Restau­rant in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, have their own signature dishes. On my visit to his outlet, Hoo showed off his Hainan-style choy por egg, which is thick but incredibly soft like tofu.

Wong, meanwhile, beamed with pride as he offered his macaroni pie, made with chicken, carrots, mushrooms and macaroni, which he claimed is not found anywhere else in Penang.

However, most, if not all, of the Hainanese dishes found in South-East Asia are not found on Hainan island. Instead Hainan has its own signature Hainanese cuisine.

There are four dishes that may be called the island’s main specialties. The Wenchang chicken is probably what inspired the Hainanese chicken rice. (Wenchang is a city in Hainan.) The free-range chicken used is boiled and then rubbed with a special seasoning which consists of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, salt and orange juice.

The second dish is the Jiaji duck, which is known for the duck’s tender flesh and soft, brittle bones. The key to this is the way the duck is fed, the feed being a mixture of cereal, beancurd and other stuff. The Jiaji duck is also believed to have medicinal qualities.

The third “must-try” dish is the Dongshan goat, which originates from the Wanning area. The meat is usually stewed, roasted or braised in coconut milk.

Lastly there is the Hele crab, which is known for its oily, yellow meat. It is steamed and served with ginger, garlic and vinegar.

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