We first encountered Hainanese chicken rice abroad. Love at first sight, er, taste, best describes the encounter. There’s the steamed chicken, with immaculately white meat and perfect meat strands. There’s the dip, three separate kinds — soy, chili and ginger sauces — that you mix and match depending on your taste. So when we heard that there’s a “fastfood” chain specializing in Hainanese chicken rice in the Philippines, we lost no time in seeking it out.
We did wait, actually, for a couple of months before we ventured inside the restaurant, the Hainanese Delights (Barbeque and Hainanese Chicken Rice). Exploring the taste of this restaurant at this time is really a bit late considering that Hainanese Delights opened its first branch in Robinsons Galleria in the early part of 2011.
We were waiting for word of mouth to reach us and whet our appetite. Maybe our friends are not fond of Hainanese chicken rice because we’ve heard only a few talk about Hainanese Delights. We sure doubt if people are not fond of Hainanese chicken rice because it is, after all, somewhat similar to the Filipino tinola — with the soup removed and the tender chicken served separately, sans the powerful sauce of course.
We found ourselves in one SM mall, pausing for a while to decide which restaurant would be acceptable to everyone in a party of six. The choice boiled down to Mooon Cafe Mexican-Inspired Restaurant and Hainanese Delights.
We haven’t tried both so we had to do some serious comparison on the general type of cuisine served in each restaurant. There are young kids in the group who have conservative palates, so spicy Mexican food isn’t as appealing as it should otherwise be. Besides, we had to try this restaurant which, we heard, serves good Hainanese chicken rice.
It’s quite absurd to visit Hainanese Delights and not try the Hainanese chicken rice. There are two variants. The usual chicken rice they call Hainanese Delights here, while the other variety is the Hainan Fried Chicken. We would be perfectly happy with just the chicken rice, but since we’re at the restaurant anyway, might as well try other items in the menu. There’s the Crispy Squid, the Crispy Pork Strips and Chicken Heaven (chicken barbecue).
The Hapchae, though, came as a surprise. We were always under the impression that Hainanese Delights would serve principally Chinese food since the “Hainan” in “Hainanese” is found in China. Subsequent sleuthing (we’re not sure how the Hainanese Delights in the Philippines and Hainanese Delights in Penang, Malaysia are connected to each other) revealed that Hainanese Delights intends to introduce Singaporean cuisine to the general public. Chicken rice is the “national dish” of Singapore. Hapchae is basically Korean noodles, although that’s too much meddling with how a restaurant decides to stuff its menu.
The Hainanese Fried Chicken comes highly recommended. It tastes really good. The “white” variety, labelled Hainanese Chicken Delight, is equally delicious, except that we’re used to the usual immaculately white-meat kind served somewhere else — without the bones, because there’s a strong trace of dark color along the areas where the meat attaches to the bones. This is a matter of preference and has nothing to do with how the chicken rice tastes. The chicken rice, we’d like to reiterate, tastes really good. The unlimited Hainanese rice is a bonus.
The rest of the dishes we’ve tried, other than the Hainanese chicken rice, are not as impressive. We say this with a recognition that our taste buds are no experts and there might be some differences in how one branch serves its food from the others (a headache, really, that naturally arises whenever there are branches).
Of course, we know that its chicken rice doesn’t taste as good as the chicken rice in Singapore. But we’re not in Singapore, right? And it’s close (the taste, that is). It is, after all, an “introduction” to Singaporean cuisine, which is no longer the case if you’ve tried authentic chicken rice in Singapore. To sum it up, the Hainanese Delights is a place we’ll visit again for its chicken rice (unless some other accessible restaurant offers a better taste).