Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Street Hawker Delight

Can you believe it? I have managed to crank out two countries in a row! I am on a role. We have had three snow days this week, and I have had a little extra free time on my hands. I still worked every day (because the cafeteria and tutoring have to go on even when all else stops) and did about 9 hours of homework yesterday alone, but I was able to cram in Singapore and El Salvador during my much needed break. Almost a fourth of the Singaporeans are foreign born. They are attracted to the small city-state island nation of Singapore with its booming economy, great schools, and top notch healthcare. It's the third most densely populated nation in the world with 19,725 people per square mile. The 5.5 million inhabitants all live in one city. I can't even imagine that. Before Singapore gained independence from Great Britain in 1965, it was a major naval base. This brought a lot of commerce and trade to the colony resulting in the wealth the Singapore has today. One out of every six Singaporeans is a millionaire, and this statistic does not even take into account property values. (Housing in such a dense city/ nation isn't cheap.) There is no minimum wage to increase competition. All of this economic wealth has lead to a super high inequality rate between the rich and poor. There is no welfare system, but no one goes hungry without ample sources of aid and assistance. The culture encourages a good work ethic, so everyone is motivated to seek employment and make their own wealth. Don't break any rules while in Singapore. They are very strict, and corporal punishment is allowed. I also heard that they charge heft fines for things like spitting gum on the street and forgetting to flush the toilet. (I think my university should start charging for these things too. :) )
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The cuisine of Singapore has been passed down and adapted by the many ethnic groups that have immigrated to the island, the largest being the Chinese, Malay, and Indian. Street hawker cuisine is a popular way to get an inexpensive bite to eat between bus or train stops or on your walk to work. These hawker centers have a diverse range of stands offering culinary treats from all over Asia and beyond. Like my meal from tonight, the Singaporeans always put their own twist to the adapted dishes. The cuisine of Singapore cannot be called a copycat cuisine in any way. Take the Hainanese chicken rice that I made for instance. It was adopted from Chinese immigrants long ago who prepared a basic poached chicken dish with ginger. That simple dish evolved into the street hawker cuisine of today that includes accompanying chili sauce, rice, broth, and many other toppings. You can get as intricate as you want with all the various toppings, but I just stuck with green onions. Cilantro is expensive, I'm highly allergic to tomatoes and do not want them touching my food, and I refuse to pay for a cucumber that I am not going to eat. I thought the chili and the broth were enough accompaniments for me, and I absolutely loved this dish.

Hainanese Chicken Rice
serves 2

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To make the chicken:
2 chicken thigh and leg quarters
1” ginger, sliced into 1/8” thick rounds
2 cloves garlic, halved
4 green onions, halved

Add everything to a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook with the lid on for 30 minutes. Once the chicken registers to be 165 degrees, immediately place it in a bowl of ice water to cool. Discard the garlic, ginger, and green onions. Skim the fat off the top of the broth and set it aside to use later.


To make the rice:
2 cups reserved chicken broth
1 tsp grated ginger
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tbsp. oil
1 cup rice
salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for about 5 minutes until tender. Toss in the ginger and garlic. Cook for a minute or two until the spices are aromatic but not burnt. Add the rice and broth to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes until all the broth has been absorbed. Allow the rice to sit for 10 minutes with the lid on it before fluffing with a fork and seasoning to taste.

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To make the chili sauce:
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp reserved chicken broth
6 tbsp siracha
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all the ingredients together.

To make the soup:
remaining chicken broth
2 sliced green onions

Ladle the remaining broth into two individual bowls and top with the green onions.

To serve:
sliced green onions
cilantro
cucumber slices
tomato slices

Cut the meat with a cleaver into slices and arrange it onto two plates. Give each plate a serving of rice and chili sauce. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, and cucumber slices as desired and serve with the soup.

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Oddly enough, my favorite part of the meal was the delicious rice. The heavenly homemade chicken broth really made it shine, and the additional spices made it even better. Coming from a former rice hater, this is very surprising. I have learned throughout cooking all the countries I have made so far that I do not dislike rice. I just never really knew how to make it properly. The other surprise was that even though I don't typically like the taste of ginger, I really liked it in this dish. The soup, chicken, rice, and sauce all had an amazing taste. Plus, the broth made my whole dorm room smell absolutely delicious as it simmered. The chicken was tender and delicious, the rice was amazing, and the chili sauce and soup added the perfect balance of spice and comfort.

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