You know what they say about persistence - keep trying and you’ll succeed one day. Well, I finally did - it took me quite a while, but I think I finally found one Hainanese chicken rice place in Penang which can approximate the standards we find in Singapore.
The Hainanese are latecomers to Penang - by the time large numbers of Hainanese came to Penang in the 1870s, other dialect groups like the Hokkiens, Hakkas, Teochews and Cantonese were already entrenched. By then, Penangites’ palates were already so attuned to Cantonese-style “pak cham kai” served with steamed white rice - they could not get used to the newly-introduced richer, oilier Hainanese-style chicken rice at the time. Consequently, the Hainanese adjusted their cooking to suit local Penang tastes - and the Hainanese chicken rice in Penang became mild, and subsequently lacked the fragrance and rich flavours which we take for granted in Singapore’s Hainanese chicken rice.
Over the past decades, I found that even most highly-recommended Hainanese chicken rice places in Penang, e.g. Tho Yuen, Goh Thiew Chik, etc. - to be much blander than I expected.
But local friends have recently pointed me to Wen Chang Hainan Chicken Rice on Cintra Street - the restaurant is run by the Hainanese Lim family, with a youngish 38-year-old chef, Lim Fang Jeong, who uses a recipe handed down through generations from their Hainanese forefathers. The history of this Hainanese chicken rice spot actually went back further: as a stall inside Eng Loh Kopitiam on Church Street back in 1967. At the moment, I’d say this is the place for Hainanese chicken rice in George Town.
- Hainanese chicken rice here, besides the requisite chicken and chicken livers, is accompanied with tofu (a nod to Penang’s large Teochew community) and Hokkien “lor bak” (which is what “ngoh hiang” is known to Penangites).
- The most fragrant Hainanese chicken rice I’d ever come across in town. It’s better than all other versions I’d tried so far on the island.
- “Lor bak” or “ngoh hiang” - the ones here are also some of the best-tasting rendition I’d had. Penang’s "ngoh hiang’ taste 100% similar in terms of flavour & texture to the ones in Taiwan.
Wen Chang Hainan Chicken Rice 文昌海南鸡饭
63, Lebuh Cintra, 10100 Georgetown, Penang
Tel: 04 - 264 3810 (Mr. Lim Jit Tan)
Opens daily 10.30am - 7.30pm.