Every country in Southeast Asia with a large Chinese population has its own version of this popular chicken rice dish. This one came in a box with all the seasonings for the rice, the soup, and even three kinds of sauces.
A couple of weeks ago when we were at the Montien enjoying Hainanese Chicken Rice, we passed another in-house restaurant called the Jade Garden which serves all you can eat Chinese dimsum for Baht 300 (about US$10.00) per person. To enjoy it we ate only a bit of toast for breakfast so we were ravenous for dimsum. We tried to do it justice.
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I didn’t care too much for the fried cakes but the steamed dimsum was delectable. Everything had shrimp in it which was great because it was fresh and steamed until it was just done. The best was the shrimp wrapped in fish with slivers of ginger–the ginger wasn’t overpowering, just a discreet note to remind you it’s there to counter the blandness of the seafood. There was soup, too, but rather indifferent. Maybe that’s why I forgot to take a picture! I ordered the wonton soup, shrimp of course, but the soup itself lacked the delicate dimensions of flavor you get when it steeps in ginger and scallion. It looked and tasted like a Knorr bouillon cube–salty and flat. Now, I don’t mind Knorr because I use it as a shortcut when my recipes call for stock, but when a soup is on display, you don’t want that shortcut. For dessert we both ordered the sesame dumplings in warm ginger syrup. I love it. The syrup is spicy and warm and the dumpling, when you suck on it, pulls apart on your tongue leaving a wonderful sweet sesame grit. It’s like eating sand if it were edible and made of sesame and sugar.
We went to the Montien Hotel for lunch on Wednesday. We ordered their specialty: Hainanese chicken rice (khao man gai). This is the Thai take on the traditional Chinese dish. Starting clockwise at the top: the four dipping sauces. First, a yellow bean sauce and chilies, next to it a soy, ginger, and chili sauce, below that a sweet soy sauce, and last of all, ginger with Chinese rice vinegar (chikcho)–a much milder-tasting vinegar than Western varieties. The bowl of garlic rice was fluffy and moist, and the chicken soup had been lightly flavored with soy sauce. It included two pieces of daikon cooked until they were tender but not mushy. (BTW, the Montien gives seconds on the soup). And finally, the pièce de résistance: the chicken itself, one whole skinless and boneless chicken breast, braised to perfection and resting on top of slices of cool fresh cucumber. Those chocolate brown squares at the top of the plate of chicken were two squares of pig’s blood cake (leud moo). Well, I’m no Andrew Zimmern, so I passed on the blood cake and could not tell you how it tasted. But I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the meal.