Khao Man Gai (Hainanese Chicken)

Khao Man Gai, which is a dish of chicken over rice, is one of Thailand’s most popular dishes. It gets eaten all over Thailand for breakfast or lunch and is considered ‘fast¬†food’ because it is prepared in advance and served quickly. Despite its popularity in Thailand, its actually a Chinese dish, or to be more precise a Hainanese dish.

Khao Man Gai
Homemade Khao Man Gai

Traditional Cuisine of Hainan Island in China

Khao Man Gai is a traditional dish of the Li people of Hainan Island, which is a tropical island in the south of what is now China. The Li people had their own distinct culture and island government until the the Han Chinese starting taking over Hainan island in from the 17th Century onward. In the 1800s, after a short war of resistance against the Han Chinese (which they lost), the Li people started emigrating in great numbers all across Asia and they took this dish with them to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore where it is today by all ethnic groups.

Preparing Khao Man Gai

To make Khao Man Gai you boil chicken in stock for several hours, and then use the stock to make the rice, which often referred to as oily rice. Few Thai people will cook this dish at home instead choosing to buy the dish in a Chicken and Rice shop, which you find in almost every town and city in Thailand. The rice is kept warm in a metal cooking pot but the chicken is normally hanging on a hook in a glass container and is eaten at room temperature. The one pictured above was lovingly prepared by my wife, it took her hours to make it. This kind of explains why people rarely eat this dish at home in Thailand. It takes too long to cook, and the flavour tends to be better when it gets cooked on an ‘industrial scale’ with the stock simmered for hours and hours. Many Chicken and Rice shops buy in their chicken from a local distributor and only make the rice in the shop for this reason.

Accompaniments to Khao Man Gai

To accompany the Khao Man Gai you traditional get a thin and flavoursome stock soup and a black chilli sauce. the recipe for the black chilli sauce varies across Thailand, but the base of the sauce normally contains fresh chilli, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and vinegar.

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