If you’ve dabbled at all in South-east Asian cuisine, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of chicken rice. A variation of Hainan’s “Wenchang chicken”, it’s a staple in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Each country has its own take on how to best prepare the delicious dish.
Well then, what is Khao Man Gai? It’s the Thai name for chicken rice, translating directly from Thai to English as “Fatty Rice Chicken” - which is about as accurate as things get. A far cry from the usual blend of sweet, sour, and spicy that most Thai food is known for, Khao Man Gai’s neutral flavors may come as a surprise to the uninitiated. It was introduced to Thai locals by Hainanese migrants decades ago, before quickly becoming a local favorite. Today it remains one of the most popular dishes in Thai cuisine.
Enjoyed nation-wide for being cheap, simple to make, and satisfying to eat, Khao Man Gai prepared the Thai way tends to have leaner meat, a stronger flavor profile, and different sauces. Some purists regard this as a mistake altogether, claiming only those from Hainan know how to prepare a truly delicious plate of chicken rice.
But regardless of which version you find, Khao Man Gai is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a labor of love. To ensure even cooking throughout, the chicken is poached slowly and carefully. No overcooked, stringy chicken breast or gamey, tough thigh meat as special care is taken to monitor temperatures closely.
Just as crucial is the resulting separation of fat from the chicken’s skin and meat. Fat is core to what makes the rice so delectable. Carefully siphoned out of the pot, the chicken fat is mixed into a broth of chicken stock and ginger that’s used to cook the rice to perfection.
Separated, the chicken and rice are already equally delicious, but together, they make a downright irresistible combination of flavors.
Now let’s get to what really makes this dish Khao Man Gai and not just your typical chicken rice. Traditionally, Hainanese chicken rice is served with a simple dipping sauce consisting of soy, ginger, and salt that further pronounces existing flavors and aromas. But this is Thailand’s version we’re talking about, and Thai food wouldn’t be Thai food without an assault on the senses.
To complement the perfectly balanced flavors of Khao Man Gai are two specialty sauces. First, a Thai take on the classic Hainanese soy-based sauce, heightened further by pickled chili peppers. Salty, sour, and packing a searing kick of heat with every bite, experience Khao Man Gai’s fiercer side that cuts through its fattiness and reveals deeper, richer tones of flavor. Just as good is the sweet chili sauce, brightening the savory bombardment with a citrusy glaze. By the time you’re done with your first bite, you’ll already be thinking of your next chance to eat it again.
It’s hard to say why Khao Man Gai is so beloved. It couldn’t be that it’s a simple-yet-infinitely-complex, delicious blend of unique flavors that beautifully complement each other, right? Well, we think so.
All of us at Hen Chicken Rice are committed to bringing you the best chicken rice, nay, Khao Man Gai experience you can get. We pride ourselves in providing a true taste of home that we’d want for ourselves, and hope to open the door to simple yet extraordinary Thai food experiences for all who are interested. And seriously, take our word on this. You’re interested.