Why is Hainanese Chicken Rice at Wen Chang Restaurant a favorite for lunch?
Hainanese Chicken Rice is my all-time favorite Sunday lunch that my family and I have been eating at Wen Chang Restaurant since the 70s.
Growing up in Penang, one of the best-loved staples is simply Hainanese Chicken Rice! My family would eat at only two chicken rice shops in George Town. Part nostalgia, part comfort food of my childhood, the tender and juicy poached white chicken is delicious.
What’s the History of Wen Chang Restaurant?
The grandparents of the current owner started the business in 1967 as a hawker stall. Senior Penangites and old-timers will remember the great taste of the original chicken rice. Many patrons accompany the growth of this homegrown brand.
Wen Chang Restaurant’s first shop was at No. 36, Cintra Street
Wen Chang Hainanese Chicken Rice started by the matriarch at No. 36, Cintra Street. Back then it was run by the mother and son.
Wen Chang Restaurant’s current premises No. 63, Cintra Street
In the early 2000s, Wen Chang Hainanese Chicken Rice moved to No. 63, Cintra Street.
Old-timers will remember this shop was the former Lin Ho which sold footwear for decades before it was converted to a café in the early 90s. The airy shop sits about 24 tables!
The grandchildren soon took to chopping the chickens and serving. The father became the barista and ran the coffee/drinks station.
Over the next decade, the popularity grew as local newspapers and bloggers start featuring the chicken rice shop.
Then the competition came along…
There was a short period that it grew quiet as another chicken rice shop opened a few doors away.
The other shop had roast duck, roast pork, BBQ pork on the menu and became more popular.
Eventually, things evened out and his loyal customers returned for authentic Hainanese Chicken Rice.
What is a Wen Chang Chicken?
Wenchang chicken is a breed of small, fleshy free-range chicken from the Wenchang city area in Hainan, China. The chicken is fed coconut and peanut bran.
During the last two months before slaughter, the Wenchang chickens are kept in coops above the ground.
This type of poultry is well known throughout the province of Hainan.
How to Cook a Wen Chang Chicken?
The Wen Chang Chicken is cooked by way of poaching the entire chicken at once. Many chefs swear by the practice of quickly placing the poached chicken in cold water. This creates a thick jelly layer all around the chicken.
Poaching is the easiest way to cook. The only thing the cook needs to do is to keep eye on the clock.
The Wenchang Chicken, a Hainan specialty dish is considered one of the island’s four greatest culinary creations.
How to cook Chicken Rice?
The stock skimmed off during the poaching process is mixed with ginger, garlic and used to perfume the chicken rice. This adds a wonderfully amazingly tasty dimension and savory balance to the rice.
The real test for the best Hainanese Chicken dish is the rice. Each restaurant has its own recipe. I have even seen some restaurants add margarine to the rice.
The ultimate goal is that the rice is tasty enough to eat on its own.
How many choices of Wen Chang Chicken?
The choice is simple. Just choose a ‘white’ or ‘black’ chicken. Or you could have a combination of both.
White Cut Chicken refers to the poached chicken while black chicken refers to a ‘roasted’ chicken which is actually deep-fried whole chicken!
This simple dish is filling and delicious and is a great lunch staple for Penangites.
Old-timers enjoy Hainanese Chicken Rice for the tender and juicy poached white chicken. Nowadays the popular dish is ‘black’ chicken.
Call it comfort food; this is Penang’s answer to fast food which is not burger based.
How to serve the Wen Chang Chicken?
The Wen Chang Chicken is served cut into pieces arranged on a bed of cucumber slices and topped with a sprinkle of spring onions.
The skin of Wenchang chicken is typically yellow and has an oily appearance. Although the roasted chicken meat is a little drier, it has more texture than battery farmed chickens.
To serve, scoop a quarter of the rice into the bowl, smooth off the top, and then turn it upside-down on a dinner plate. Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice, and decorate the plate with the spring onions. Serve while still hot, with the dipping sauces.
What condiments do you eat with Hainanese Chicken Rice?
Eateries in Hainan serve the chicken with concoctions of soya sauce, chopped garlic, and chopped chili, with a dash of vinegar or tangerine juice and oyster sauce. These are not chili-based like the dipping sauces found in Penang chicken rice stalls.
There are three types of original sauces that go with this poached White Cut Chicken or Roast Chicken.
Three Types of Dipping Sauces for Chicken Rice
Salty Dipping Sauce
- 4 tablespoons minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 6 tablespoons light soy sauce
Ginger Chili Sauce
- 3 red chilis minced
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 6 tablespoons vinegar
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 100g sliced spring onions
- 3 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 50ml hot oil
- Light Soy Sauce
- Dark Sweet Soy Sauce
Small jars of fragrant ginger chili dipping sauce are provided on each table. The balance of spicy and sour adds to the sensation of a plate of chicken rice.
I like to mix the Dark Sweet Soy Sauce into my Ginger Chili Sauce for dipping.
Why is Hainanese Chicken Rice so popular?
Hainanese Chicken Rice excels because of its simplicity; poached chicken on white rice served with soy sauce and chili garlic dip. This full, easy meal is one of the best foods brought out of China to Asia by immigrants’ workers.
The original version was made with the smaller and bonier Weng chang chickens. The chicken pieces
was served over rice, coated with a thick layer of oil, and accompanied by small saucers of garlic ginger chili dip and a garlic-infused oyster sauce.
With the Cantonese influence, the recipe evolved to use white cut chickens, which are tenderer.
What to Order at Wen Chang Restaurant?
The Hainanese chicken rice here is the most fragrant. The taste of the rice is richer, oilier and more flavorful than the Cantonese style chicken rice.
The way I eat it is just my own. A first mouthful, just the hot rice. You get the mouthful of all the flavors that good chicken rice should taste. The second with a bit of the Garlic Chili Sauce mixed in. Lastly with dark black soy sauce. I know, it’s just my thing.
I always tell my friends that I’m the boss of how I eat.
After eating Chicken Rice in Singapore, my conclusion is this.
The Chicken Rice in Penang tends to be less fragrant or tasty as Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore
Poached Chicken aka White Chicken
Called the white chicken the best part is the thigh and drumstick which is juicy and succulent to taste. Go early as it finishes fast.
Roast Chicken aka Black Chicken
Even though it’s called roast, the chicken is marinated with black soy sauce, five-spice powder, and deep-fried whole.
The skin is on a crispy side so the meat tends to be dry and not succulent. If you enjoy a juicier chicken, it’s better to order the boiled version.
For the longest time, I’ve only ordered the ‘black’ roast chicken. I can’t remember why!
The Ginger Garlic Chili Sauce
The dipping sauce has taste gingerly and garlicky with the mild heat from red chilies. It is a thin watery sauce and a shadow of the sauce made in the old days.
Boiled Innards, er… maybe…
The chicken intestines, giblets, and livers are boiled and sold separately. Not many stalls will go through the tedious process of cleaning the chicken intestines. Mom always has her requisite chicken livers.
Complimentary Chinese Dried Bak Choy Soup
The chicken soup with Chinese dried bak choy is served hot, tasty, hearty and nourishing. I don’t think any other Chicken Rice Shop makes soup this way.
This is my all-time favorite. One bowl is never quite enough!
Lor Bak is what we Penangites call the deep-fried pork rolls. Wen Chang makes this extra tasty with the addition of chicken livers which taste a little like pate. The lor bak here is made of minced pork and five-spice powder. It used to be made with minced pork and chicken livers with a looser consistency.
The lor bak used to have excess bean curd skin at the ends which are crunchy. The current variety is a pale comparison to the original. This lor bak is rather sweet and misses out the flavor from the heads of spring onions and leeks.
Soy Braised Egg and Bean Curd
Our usual is a side order of a lor bak, a braised egg and a chicken liver (which was sold out that day!) This is not quite my favorite style of braised eggs.
Most Chinese restaurants tend to overcook the hard-boiled eggs. I just can’t stand the disgusting “oxidized” green ring around the yolk.
So instead of RM1.20, I will pay RM2.50 for a braised egg in a Japanese restaurant.
Kopi C or Local Coffee with Condensed Milk
The Kopi C is rich, slightly bitter and tastes slightly sweet with the addition of condensed milk.
Hainanese Chicken Rice at Wen Chang Restaurant is as authentic as it gets.
The original recipe from the old days only had boiled chicken.
The roasted chicken was added in later years. After that more side dishes.
As this is a Hainanese style restaurant, they do not serve a Chai Boey (Mustard Greens Stew).
Wen Chang Chicken Rice Restaurant | 63, Lebuh Cintra, George Town, Penang
Call: +604-264 3810 | Hours: Open today • 11AM–7:30PM