Hainan Island in southernmost China is famous for its tourism resorts, pristine beaches, beautiful scenery and pleasant climate. The food culture here has a long history. The four famous traditional dishes are Wenchang Chicken, Jiaji Duck, Dongshan Lamb, and Hele Crab, but the best known is Wenchang Chicken.
Wenchang Chicken takes its name from its “birthplace” – Wenchang City in Hainan Province. All over Hainan, when people host a party, they usually provide guests with a dish of tasty Wenchang Chicken to show their gracious hospitality.
A legend surrounds the origins of Wenchang Chicken. In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) an official from Wenchang brought several chickens from his hometown and presented them to the emperor as a gift. After eating the dish made from these chickens, the emperor enjoyed it very much and named the dish Wenchang Chicken. Since then, this dish has been famous far and wide.
Why is Wenchang Chicken so delicious? The bird is raised in the tropical environment of Hainan. They range freely under the rubber trees and banyans along the coast, strolling about freely among abundant food sources of banyan seeds and worms. The nutritious food, glorious sunshine and kind climate all contribute to the fine taste of Wenchang Chicken. They are small fowl, but very fleshy with thin skin.
The traditional way to cook Wenchang Chicken in Hainan is baizhan (or baiqie), which is to boil the chicken in water and cut it up, then rub with the Hainan-style seasoning before serving. The seasoning is the critical part for this dish. The authentic mix contains ginger, mashed garlic, soy sauce, salt and fresh orange juice. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to get right, as the different proportions of the ingredients, time, degree of heating, and other aspects of preparation all contribute to the well-balanced flavor.
Another method is to stew it with coconut. The locals often make juice and concoct a soup with coconut flesh. People also stew their native chicken with Chinese wolfberry, Chinese yam, date, and pork, and use coconut shell as a soup bowl. The dish naturally absorbs the coconut flavor, and its pure taste is one you can never forget.
If you try Wenchang Chicken in Hainan, order a bowl of Hainan Chicken Rice to go with it. The locals steam long-grained non-glutinous rice with salt, chicken soup and chicken fat. The rice becomes glazed and especially tasty. This unique flavor cannot be obtained by merely adding Monosodium Glutamate.
In the wave of immigration that took place in the early 20th century, Hainan-born Chinese spread this side dish of chicken rice all over Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, and the dish was merged with the Southeast Asian cuisines. Even today, Hainan Chicken Rice is prepared everywhere in Southeast Asia.
Where to eat:
1. Yanjiang Chicken Rice Restaurant
Add: No. 11, Datong Sanli, Yi Longdong Road, Haikou, Hainan Province
2. Yehaixuan Restaurant
Add: No. Ding 141, Xizhimenwai Street, Xicheng District, Beijing
3. Xiaocheng Zhiwei Restaurant
Add: Village S4- 31, No. 19, Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
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