When thinking of dishes from the west, fish and chips, steak, pasta, fries or burgers come to mind. For many of us Malaysians, chicken chop is classified as a western dish as well but contrary to that belief, it’s actually originally and specially created here.
Chicken chop is rarely found in western countries as it’s a byproduct of British colonisation in Malaya. The ever famous Hainanese chicken chop isn’t from China either, people! This is truly a homegrown speciality.
Stick around to find some interesting facts about this southeast dish’s take on western flavours.
1.A type of “western” dish that exists largely in Malaysia (and Singapore)
In Malaysia, “Western” is usually used to refer to the British or Europeans. Interestingly, the chicken chop actually originates from Malaysia and so this dish is extremely rare in western countries.
We Malaysians refer to the chicken chop as a western dish as it is believed that the Hainanese migrants in Malaya created it in favour of the British colonial taste.
A Hainanese chicken chop is a grilled or fried piece of crumbed chicken served with brown gravy sauce, vegetables, and potatoes. For many Malaysians who eat Asian style food daily, this so called western dish is seen as a special fancy treat (because we thought Mat Sallehs ate it…)
The British were known to enjoy eating mainly meats and potatoes. What made this dish even more known to be “western” for Malaysians is the fact that the chicken meat is the main part of the dish with no carbs like rice or noodles (like in Asian dishes) taking centre stage.
2.Hainanese Chinese community created Malaysia’s Chicken Chop
The Hainanese, who are from the southern most Chinese province of Hainan (literally, “south of the sea”), arrived in Malaya later than the Hokkiens and Cantonese communities, excluding them from working under crucial economic sectors (as they were largely dominated by the other Chinese dialect groups).
As a result, many Hainanese migrants ended up working as domestic servants, kitchen staff or cooks in British and Peranakan Chinese houses, military stations, ships, restaurants or hotels. As time passed, the Hainanese who were experienced in cooking would open restaurants (a Hainanese kopitiam) with their skills.
Having opened restaurants, they catered their menu to their clientele, which obviously also included British colonials. This is how the Hainanese cooks decided to create a fusion dish, combining the best of the East and West.
3. Worcestershire sauce in it’s gravy makes it special and adds that British influence
Traditionally, the Hainan cooks that created this dish would use Worcestershire sauce for that British taste in the Chicken Chop. This fusion sauce is meticulously prepared by simmering onions in chicken stock, then adding tomatoes, the British staple sauce, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, chicken powder with mushroom powder or black pepper.
This fusion sauce evolved as a replacement for a European demi-glace, a traditional Espagnole sauce consisting of a roux created from brown stock, mirepoix, brown sugar, and tomatoes which are then blended with more brown stock and sherry wine.
The freshly fried chicken thigh is then generously ladled with this mildly sweet Hainanese brown sauce and served with assorted veggies (sometimes coleslaw), sliced potatoes (or fries) and sautéed onions.
4. Among the oldest restaurants in Msia to sell chicken chop is at Chow Kit Road
Yut Kee restaurant is one of Malaysia’s oldest eateries renowned for it’s chicken chop. Situated originally at Jalan Dang Wangi in 1928, this Hainanese kopitiam has since relocated to Jalan Kamunting at Chow Kit, attracting customers with it’s aromatic coffee and of course lah the famous Hainanese chicken chop.
Yut Kee’s charm is unlikely to fade anytime soon, thanks to recipes that largely still remain original and authentic for the last 10 decades! So best believe the chicken chop taste here is the closest to the original pre-independence version. This restaurant is still a popular breakfast and lunch spot for locals and is frequently busy, especially on weekends! So definitely expect a que if you’re going.
5. The chicken chop continues evolving, with many renditions of it today
True to it’s creative fusion origin story, this dish continues to evolve with many versions of it around Malaysia. The Hainanese chicken chop is a piece of deboned chicken thigh that has been grilled, pan-fried or deep-fried with bread crumbs. So even the preparation of the chicken itself vary according to the cooking style of the chef. The chicken is then paired with a sauce and sides of choice which obviously vary.
There’s a black pepper gravy, a white mushroom sauce or the slightly sweet Hailam sauce that all pair well on the chicken chop.
Usual sides that come with the chicken chop are carrots, green peas and potatoes but these days you can even find some versions that are served with a bowl of rice! Other options for sides include French fries, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.
As much as it’s common knowledge that Malaysia is rich with deliciously unique foods, the details of our heritage dishes most times pass us by. Exploring our country’s many special foods gives us a peek into the various cultures here, giving us the opportunity to appreciate and understand Malaysia better with one delicious bite at a time!
Our country’s melting pot of ethnic groups gives us access to all kinds of new gastronomical tastes.
Have a special local dish you think is grossly underrated? Share your suggestions with us in the comments so we can bring some attention to them!