I found myself near Aberdeen Centre again the other day, and kept thinking “Hainanese Chicken. I must try the Hainanese Chicken.” Why? Because after I went to Aberdeen Center the last time, so many of you said “you HAVE to go back and try the Hainanese Chicken!” So I did.
I started with some research on this dish, because up until then – through brilliant deductive reasoning – the only thing I knew about it was that has chicken in it, and is from Hainan.
Hainan is the smallest province of the People’s Republic of China, located on the South China Sea, and is the birthplace of this dish. Basically, it’s made by stuffing chicken with ginger and green onions, then gently poaching it. The resulting broth is used to cook the accompanying rice, and the meal is served with a chili dipping sauce. It’s simple, delicately flavoured, and well-loved in many southeast Asian cuisines. The dish, as it’s known to many today, apparently evolved when the Chinese brought it over to Singapore, where it’s now considered a national dish.
Apparently, the place to try it in Richmond is at the Aberdeen food court at Café D’Lite Express. It’s an offshoot of Café D’Lite in Vancouver, specializing in Malaysian and Singaporean food. Their main offerings are laksa and the Hainanese Chicken, which you can order in various sizes. I opted for the quarter chicken with rice ($7.25) and a $1.75 iced Ovaltine (you know, to get my vitamins), and it was ready in about 2 minutes. The meal came with slices of fresh cucumber, a small bowl of brothy soup, and two sauces – chili and fresh ginger – on the side.
I sat down nearby so I could watch the endless stream of muted Korean pop music videos above Jang Mo Jib, a vendor next to Café D-Lite. The videos are all pretty much the same, spectacularly cheesy, and totally entertaining!
So what did I think of the chicken? For starters, I was surprised upon first bite to realize it’s served at room temperature; the rice is hot, but the chicken is not. The quarter bird had been chopped into pieces, with the thick skin still attached, and the meat was impossibly moist. It had a very mild flavour and sat in its own gingery, soy poaching liquid. I mixed the chili and ginger sauces with the rice, scooped it up, and ate it with the meat. It was light and tasty, though I had one problem which I’ll probably get a lot of slack for: I had a really hard time eating the soft chicken skin. I’m all for chicken skin if it’s been roasted to a crispy, salted crunch, but when it’s soft and the plucked-feather bumps are still apparent, I have huge issues with the texture. Perhaps sacrilegiously, I removed the skin and ate the chicken on its own. That I could handle, and that I enjoyed!
Then there were the many suggestions to check out the Japanese superstore Daiso, so I did that too. It’s located a level below the food court, and let me just say this: if your Achilles-heel is bargain shopping, you should NEVER ENTER DAISO. This place is awesome, and this place is trouble.
Headquartered in Japan, the Daiso empire spreads across Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea; the store in Richmond was their first in North America, and is still the only one in Canada.
It’s packed with products, and is perfect for rainy day entertainment; you can wander endlessly, finding all kinds of goodies you’ve never seen before, then become utterly convinced you need. There are dishes, kitchen items, home decorating goods, packaged food, stationery, and thousands of other products to peruse.
I (somehow) managed to get out of there with only four things: a pastry cutter (we’ve needed one for ages and pie season has arrived), a small cooler bag, and two bags of prawn crackers.
It was Roxie, my Grandmum, who first got me hooked me on prawn-flavoured snacks; she used to serve them to my brother, sister, and I while we sat in her small apartment, waiting for the roast beef dinners she served when we were visiting. Salty prawn crackers + chilled cranberry juice to drink – ah, the memories.
For me, one of the best things about travelling is exploring foreign stores, so another fun thing about Daiso – especially the food aisle – is that is also feels like you’ve left the country. If you have a chance to visit, let me know what you turn up!
I will leave you with the only Korean pop song I actually know: “Nobody” by Wonder Girls. I had a good chuckle after googling “Korean pop music videos” and finding this, because we listened to it one day at my friend Suzie’s apartment in Italy and I’d forgotten about it entirely. Even though we tried, we never did get the dance down.
Daiso – Aberdeen Centre
Cash or card.
Not really vegetarian friendly.