Chicken on Rice – Khao Man Gai
Khao Man Gai (ข้าวมันไก่) is derived from Hainanese-Style Chicken on Rice but has been modified over the years to become subtly different and distinctly Thai. This one-plate dish is one of the most common and popular small eatery dishes available countrywide though it is not so well known outside of Thailand as it is perhaps overshadowed by its more senior Chinese relative.
The dish is simple. It’s tender boiled chicken a top a bed of rice, sprinkled with cilantro and served with sliced cucumber and most importantly a sauce containing yellow soy bean paste, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and Thai chili peppers. On the side there is a bowl of chicken broth in which floats a slice of Chinese winter gourd. No matter where you go throughout the country vendors usually stick to this format occasionally with addition of a few cubes or slices congealed chicken blood which is not as off putting as it may sound!
You can easily recognize a shop selling Khao Man Gai as there is often a whole chicken, white in color, suspended in the glass cabinet at the front of the shop which the vendor takes down to slice pieces of meat to prepare the dish. In recent times we’ve noticed a trend in some less discerning establishments of hanging a plastic bird in the cabinet in the same way some Japanese restaurants try to tempt you with displays of plastic sushi. These shops are hardly likely to offer the best Khao Man Gai and it stands to reason we only recommend vendors that only display the real deal.
To some extent the number of chickens on display is sign of quality. In cities or large towns the best and the most popular places may have five or more birds in the cabinet and the tables will rammed with hungry peak time customers. You can be pretty sure these places serve Khao Man Gai of caliber. Usually these are well established restaurants, locally famous often (but not always) with proprietors of Chinese descent. In the more traditional places especially in Bangkok the dish is sold out by lunchtime.
In the North of Thailand in particular, a Khao Man Gai vendor may also sell a variation of the dish served with fried chicken and sweet chili sauce. We’ll bring you a post on this later. If you happen to be in Thailand (or anywhere for that matter) and you come across a good Khao Man Gai restaurant you think we should know about please let us know by leaving a comment – we’d appreciate it!