When you see succulent cooked chicken hanging neatly in a row at a food stall, you are looking at one of Singapore’s national dishes - Hainanese Chicken Rice.

A ubiquitous sight in hawker centres across the country, it is also on the menu in many major restaurants and even hotel cafes. All offer the same dish at varying prices: bite-sized chicken pieces – or a whole chicken if you’re eating as a big group - served with fragrant rice and a spicy chilli and ginger paste.

The recipe for the dish is adapted from early Chinese immigrants from Hainan Island, off the southern coast of China. Back in Hainan, locals call the dish "Wenchang chicken". They use a particular fowl that is bony and fibrous, and serve the chicken with oily rice. A ground green chilli dip rounds off the dish.

Singapore-style chicken rice

The cooking method hails back to its Hainanese roots. The chicken is steeped in boiling water or blanched till it is fully cooked, before soaking it in cold water to ensure the meat remains tender. In a local twist, the chicken can also be roasted or braised in soya sauce for a different taste.

In Singapore, the dish is infused with local Cantonese influences which inspired the tangy red chilli sauce dip and the use of tender and young chicken.

It is, however, the rice and chilli sauce that can make or break the dish. The rice, cooked in chicken stock with ginger and pandan leaves, with just the right amount of oiliness. And the chilli must have the right blend of spiciness and sourness.