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Not Just Chicken and Rice

khao man gai
One of the most common and popular dishes in Thailand is chicken and rice, otherwise known as ‘khao man gai’. It is a dish that is found in Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. Each country has a slight variation on the dish. However, for the true chicken rice aficionados it has to be prepared by a Hainanese chef to be an authentic khao man gai.

Hainan is a large tropical island belonging to China in the South China Sea, on the other side of the headland to the east of the Gulf of Thailand. There has been a long history of emigration from Hainan to Thailand. Many years ago Hainanese immigrants bought their special chicken rice recipe to Thailand where it quickly became popular and eventually became regarded as a Thai dish. Today most casual foreign observers imagine that khao man gai is a traditional Thai dish, but it isn’t.

Real Hainanese chicken rice is made from Hainanese chickens, especially chickens from the Woen Sang region of the island. Traditionally older birds are used as they produce more oil and make the dish more flavoursome. A whole chicken is steeped in sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock. The stock is from a master stock that is continuously reused by topping up with water. This is the Chinese preference for a master stock that is no longer easy to find (often for reasons of hygiene) in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia and South East Asia.

The oil from the chicken is essential to khao man gai, so much so that the literal translation of the Thai phrase is ‘rice, oil, chicken’. The best Thai khao man gai dishes are made by Hainanese chefs ideally. They also use free range chickens. The dish is served with a garnish of cucumber, coriander and sometimes chicken blood tofu. There is usually an accompanying bowl of chicken broth. The sauce that is poured over the dish is made from ginger, chilli, garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. In Thai the sauce is called ‘tauchu’.

Although lots of Hainanese people made their way to the Samui Archipelago, they are mostly naturalized Thais who have lost their Chinese cultural heritage over the generations. It is thus far from certain that any of the Chinese / Thai found in Thongsala can be regarded as Hainanese master chefs capable of making the finest khao man gai. However, you get a good plate of the dish at the small local restaurants in Walking Street in Thongsala as well as at Pantip Market. Typically, a dish of khao man gai in Thongsala costs 40 Thai Baht. It is cheap but delicious food. Sometimes even the cheapest dishes have a fascinating history and made by certain chefs can be considered special cuisine.

Khao Man Gai in Thong Nai Pan

The only place to buy khao man gai in Thong Nai Pan is from a Thai lady on a motorbike. She comes around 1pm – 1.30pm every day and does the village and the main road in Yai. It costs 50B. The main dish comes in a box and you get a small plastic bag with the chicken broth.