[Penang] Hainanese chicken rice from Kek Seng

Hainanese chicken rice, the Malaysian/Singaporean derivative of Wenchang chicken rice from Hainan Island, China, is one of the most popular lunch options in George Town. A dish with a 400-year-old history, the Hainanese called it “guey bui” (Penang-Hokkien: “kay pui”, Singapore-Hokkien “kuay p’ng”).

The iconic Kek Seng kopitiam (Est. 1906) on Penang Road is currently known for its popular Hainanese chicken rice stall. If one thinks the chicken rice stall, with its Thai inscriptions on its signboard, looks similar to the one at the now-defunct 𝗛𝗼𝗰𝗸 𝗦𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗖𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗻 kopitiam opposite Komtar, that’s because it is one and the same.

𝗛𝗼𝗰𝗸 𝗦𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗖𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗻’s chicken rice stall was founded by Hainanese chicken rice chef, Mr 𝙂𝙤𝙝 𝙅𝙤𝙤𝙣 𝙆𝙤𝙠, in 1983. Mr Goh is Penang-born, but his father, the elder Goh, emigrated to Penang from Wenchang county, Hainan Island, back in 1966 and started his chicken rice business. The elder Goh at the time sold Hainanese chicken rice with poached chicken. When his son took over, he started offering roast chicken besides the traditional poached chicken, as local Hokkien & Cantonese customers had asked for it.

The kopitiam, then located right across the road from the new shopping hub of Komtar in the mid-80s, resulted in many Thai visitors/tourists stopping there for lunch.

The Thai customers seemed to prefer ordering roast chicken to go with their chicken rice. Mr Goh thinks it was because having roast chicken with their chicken rice was a novelty to the Thais, as Hainanese-influenced Thai chicken rice (“khao man gai”) traditionally uses only poached chicken.

Over time, 𝗛𝗼𝗰𝗸 𝗦𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗴 𝗖𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗻 became known for its roast chicken as an accompaniment for its chicken rice.

76-year-old Mr 𝙂𝙤𝙝 𝙅𝙤𝙤𝙣 𝙆𝙤𝙠 retired 3 years ago. His nephew (son of his cousin sister), 39-year-old 𝙃𝙚𝙣𝙜 𝘾𝙝𝙚𝙣𝙜 𝙆𝙤𝙤𝙞, has taken over the running of the stall, now located at Kek Seng, a couple of minutes’ walk down Penang Road from its old location. A true-blue Hainanese chef (the nephew speaks only in Hainanese with his uncle), Mr Heng reproduces his uncle’s style of chicken rice exactly: with its signature dark soy sauce dressing, and green chili (instead of red chili) dip.

Our order of a mixture of poached and roasted chicken:

Poached chicken livers & gizzards:

Roasted Chinese waxed sausages:

Chicken-flavoured rice - the rice grains would’ve been lightly sautéed with chicken fat, before chicken stock (flavored with ginger and scallions) were added. Pandan leaves would also be added for its fragrance, and the rice would be gently boiled till cooked.

Left: Kek Seng’s signature Hainanese chicken rice, served with roast chicken and its trademark green chili sauce; versus
Right: Foong of Hutton Lane’s version, with the typical poached chicken and red chili dip - a standard for Hainanese chicken rice throughout Malaysia and Singapore.

Kek Seng has that charming, old 1960s feel, with its aging booth seats.

Hainanese chicken rice at Kek Seng
382 & 384, Jalan Penang (Penang Road), 10000 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6016-412 1300
Opening hours: 9am to 5pm, Tue-Sun. Closed on Mondays.