11 July 2024

Plates of plenty

The much-loved one-dish meal Khao Man Gai (chicken and rice) varies in taste from stall to stall in Thailand and at popular places it is not easy to get a seat without queuing. The dish is highly accessible, delicious, satisfying and reasonably priced and can be so good that one specialist shop has even earned recognition from the Michelin guide!

For the vendors, it’s a logical way to make a living. The dish isn’t too complicated to make and doesn’t require much in the way of culinary skills though ensuring it is so delicious that everyone wants some is another story. Roadside stalls don’t require licenses or government permission except if they are operating as a franchise. That’s probably why there are shops selling chicken and rice at every corner.

The steamed chickens advertise themselves by dangling from hooks, a sight that tends to horrify those from other cultures but for local and expats in Thailand, gets the mouth watering and the stomach rumbling,

For Thais, good chicken-rice is often associated with the world “Hai Lam” or Hainan island. Foodies believe that only Hainan Island sells chicken-rice but that’s simply not true. Many localities in China produce great chicken-rice dishes too, such as Sichuan which excels with its hot sauce and pepper.

Commercial wisdom dictates that chicken-rice shops in Bangkok advertise their product as Hainan chicken-rice even if they know nothing about Hainan island, let alone how to make good chicken rice. Like many other stereotypes such as the Hakka Chinese are good at doing laundry while Teochew Chinese are good businessmen, this recipe gets it reputation from the ethnic Chinese who settled in Thailand at the beginning of last century.

A reasonably priced plate ranges from 40 to 50 baht, but for a more pleasurable treat, order rice with a separate deboned chicken. The price can be as high as 100 baht-plus depending on the shop and the location and like other dishes, hundreds of Khao Man Gai shops are now available on applications and all offer delivery services.

Cooking rice for Khao Man Gai is not easy. One of methods to cook the rice properly is to pan-fry uncooked rice over a low flame with garlic, gradually adding chicken fat and making sure that the fat is well mixed in. Chicken broth is then added and allowed to simmer until it is well cooked. Nowadays, most rice in road-side shops is no longer cooked the old-fashioned way.

Apart from properly cooked rice, the chicken must be boiled perfectly so that the meat is juicy and tender. The quality of chicken is all important too, so many shops/restaurants have their own suppliers.

Here are some of popular Khao Man Gai joints in Bangkok, most of them available on food delivery applications,

Go-Ang Khao Man Gai Pratunam (a Bib Gourmand in Bangkok Michelin Guide 2018, 2019)

Midnight chicken at Pratunam (blue shirt) – One of the oldest and most famous chicken rice shops in the Pratunam area – a stone’s throw from Platinum Mall

Ruean Ton, Montien Hotel – One of legendary chicken rice shops and well worth a visit despite the added VAT and service charge.

888 Chicken Rice Shop – Pattanakarn Road, Suan Luang District

Boon Tong Kee – First branch at Soi Thonglor and Siam Paragon, chicken rice from Singapore.