We often have odd ideas about a dish’s origins.
And that’s understandable, when it comes to traditional dishes that emerge in areas with fluid borders, or traditional dishes that are developed and are then introduced to other areas, by immigrants or travelling traders. Look at goulash. Where does it come from? Hungarians, Estonians, Romanians, Czechs, Albanians, Kosovars, and Austrians all claim it as theirs.
Or peanut sauce (aka bumbu kacang, sambal kacang, or tương đậu phộng). It’s claimed by Indonesians, Malaysians, Thais, and Vietnamese. We don’t really know which group first developed it, even though we know that the Dutch first introduced Mexican peanuts into South-East Asia, some time in the 16th Century.
However, some dishes don’t develop slowly over time. Some dishes are invented by a small group or even by an individual.
Take vichyssoise for example. It was invented by Louis Felix Diat in 1917. OK, he based it on potage parmentier, which is a traditional soup from Northern France. But vichyssoise was created by Diat, while he was working at the Ritz-Carlton, in New York. So really, it’s an American dish. It’s not like Diat came to New York on holiday; he lived in the city for seven years before inventing vichyssoise. So, vichyssoise should be seen as a part of New York cuisine, part of that city’s tradition of taking ethnic dishes from other lands, and amalgamating them into its own cuisine.
Caesar salad is another one. It was created by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur, who worked in Tijuana, or possibly a member of his staff, in the early 1920’s. So Caesar salad should be seen as a Mexican dish, part of Tijuana’s urban fusion-cuisine.
Another example of this kind of confusion involves Hainan chicken-rice. Hainan chicken is a genuine Chinese dish from Hainan, China’s smallest and most southernmost province, involving white-cut chicken, served with a cold sauce, made of soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli, chives, garlic, and sugar. However chicken-rice is something different; which owes as much to Malay cuisine as it does to Chinese cuisine; a highly spiced dish of shredded poached chicken, stir-fried with aromatics, chilli and soy sauce, and served with Chinese-style soup and rice cooked in chicken broth. The dish was first popularised in Singapore by Moh Lee Twee, who ran the Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant from 1947 onwards. Since that time, this fusion Chinese-Malay dish has become something like the national dish of Singapore.
So here’s my recipe for;
Hainan Chicken-Rice (The Old Lounge Bandicoot)
* 3 cups long grain rice, peanut oil, 4 litres chicken stock,
* 6 cloves of garlic, 2 litres chicken stock, 20 whole peppercorns, ½ cup chopped shallots, 1 small knob ginger, 2 double chicken breast fillets, 1 tbsp sesame oil, MSG
* 1 bunch coriander, 1 onion, 1 small knob ginger, 6 cloves garlic, ½ cup chopped shallots, 2 tbsp peanut oil, 1 tbsp hoi sin sauce, 1 tbsp soy sauce, MSG, 4 tbsp extra soy sauce,
* 4 tbsp Chinese chilli paste, 3 shredded chillies, 1 cup chopped shallots
Measure the rice into a microwave rice cooker. Add a tablespoon or so of oil and stir it around well, so all the rice is coated in oil. Add the stock, put the lid on and microwave the rice on High for five minutes. Take it out, stir it around, put the lid back on, and microwave the rice on High for another five minutes. Stir it around again, put the lid back on and let it rest.
Peel six of the cloves of garlic and throw them into a four litre casserole dish with two litres of stock, the water, the peppercorns, a third of the shallots and half the ginger, roughly sliced. Add the chicken and bake the lot at 170ºc (350ºf) for two hours. Allow the chicken to cool in the stock, overnight if possible. Remove the chicken, strain the stock into a four litre stewpan and shred the chicken finely, using your fingers, picking out any bone or gristly bits. Put the chicken aside. Add the sesame oil and a big pinch of MSG to the stock. Bring the stock to the boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
While the soup is simmering, shred the coriander and chop the onion finely. Shred the remaining ginger and garlic. Put the coriander, onion, garlic, ginger and shallots in to fry in a wok with the peanut oil. Stir-fry the lot for fifteen minutes at a low heat. Add the chicken and toss it together well, to combine the chicken with the vegetables. Add the hoi sin sauce, the soy sauce, a big pinch of MSG and a cup of the soup to the wok. Mix the liquid in well with the chicken and simmer the mixture for twenty minutes. Remove the chicken mixture from the heat and keep it warm.
Cook the rice for another minute or so. Taste it, to make sure it’s cooked.
Taste the soup, adjust the seasonings, and stir half the shallots into the soup.
Pile the rice into one bowl, and the chicken into another. Pour the soup into a small casserole dish, or a similar container. Put the rice, chicken, soup, extra shallots, shredded chillies, extra soy, and the chilli sauce onto the table.
Serves six, with some leftovers.
To eat this, you pile some chicken and some rice into a bowl, and have a separate bowl of soup with it. The soup is eaten alternately with the chicken, or the soup can be spooned over the chicken and eaten together. It’s very good!!!