Ranked highly by tourists to Thailand and locals alike, khao man gai, or Thai style Hainanese chicken rice, is possibly the comfortiest (what? Language evolves) of comfort foods. This recipe for Thai style vegan chicken rice features the rich flavour profile you'd expect and is based on some of my favourite versions of vegan khao man gai I've sampled across Thailand.
What does khao man gai actually mean?
The literal translation is "rice oil chicken," but the meaning is oily chicken rice. In this post I sometimes refer to my recipe as khao man fong taohoo (ข้าวมันฟองเต้าหู้), which thus translates as oily yuba rice.
- Khao ข้าว = rice
- man มัน = oily
- gai ไก่ = chicken
- fong taohoo ฟองเต้าหู้ = yuba (fong means bubble and refers to the process of making tofu skin, while taohoo means tofu).
An aside: I often see people (including well known authors of Thai cookbooks and food vendors) refer to any vegetarian or vegan Thai food as jay (เจ), but just because food is vegan does not mean it falls under this category. Jay food does not contain garlic and onion, and since this recipe includes both it cannot be classified as jay.
Chicken rice as it's typically understood on a global scale today likely hails from from the island of Hainan in the city of Wenchang. Migrants from this region to Southeast Asia took the concept of the dish with them and it thus evolved to use local ingredients and suit local tastes. Most people place the origins of the dish in Singapore but Malaysia contests this, insisting the recipe came into creation North of The Garden City's border.
While this newer concept of the dish originated somewhere in the Southern region of the peninsula, versions of chicken rice are popular throughout Southeast Asia. Thailand is no exception. The vegan chicken rice, or khao man fong taohoo, recipe I've provided is based on the Thai style of this dish.
Variations & substitutions
As popular as chicken rice is, it's possible to enjoy an alternative that doesn't lead to the suffering and death of living Beings. Enter vegan Hainanese chicken rice. I've had this dish many times in Thailand and the replacements have varied from mushrooms to soy products like tofu and yuba (my preference, and what I use in the recipe provided).
Traditionally the protein wouldn't be fried, but over time it became popular to serve the rice with fried chicken (khao man gai tod, where tod means deep fried). Hence I'll provide instructions for both styles.
If you cannot find yuba, feel free to use tofu or mushrooms. Slice the tofu into ½ centimetre pieces and cook it in the soup stock for 10 minutes. If using mushrooms, cook in the soup stock until wilted. Japanese freeze dried tofu (koya-dofu) also works well in fried chicken rice. Rehydrate the tofu in seasoned stock and then batter and fry it (you can also add panko if you'd like).
Please note the yuba I use is fresh and not not the kind that comes in massive sheets. You can find it frozen in many Korean grocery stores (look in the freezer section with hot pot supplies). If you’re UK based, you can purchase a large pack from Veggie World. If you’re in London, Loon Fung in Chinatown sometimes stocks this exact product.
- If you don't like spicy food you can omit the chillies from the sauce or use a mild variety (I recommend the latter over the former)
- An alternative sauce that's more kid friendly is sweet dark soy sauce.
You will need a steaming mechanism and/or a deep fryer (or the confidence to deep fry in a wok) to make this dish, depending on the variation you wish to make.
Vegan khao man gai (Thai-Hainanese chicken rice ข้าวมันไก่วีแกน)
For the soup
- 500 millilitres light unsalted stock or water
- 1 large dried shiitake mushroom or 2-3 small dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 large cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- 1-2 slices ginger
- 1 rounded packed tablespoon sliced salted preserved turnip
- 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Pinch white pepper
- Handful ½ inch pieces fuzzy gourd you can also use winter melon, daikon or courgette (but may need to adjust cooking times)
- Coriander to serve
For the rice
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons sliced shallots
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 1 rounded teaspoon chopped coriander stems or chopped coriander roots
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger
- 140 grams about ⅔ cup jasmine rice, washed
- 200 millilitres stock unsalted or water
- Leftover sliced shiitake mushrooms from soup optional
- 1-2 tablespoons ground dried shiitake mushrooms optional
- 1 teaspoon thin soy sauce see notes
- ¾ teaspoon white sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1-2 pandan leaves tied (optional)
For the sauce (nam jim khao man gai)
- 2 tablespoons salted soybean paste (tao jeow) see notes
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 1 heaped tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons black soy sauce see notes
- 1-2 Thai bird’s eye chillies roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon lime juice or white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
For the yuba
- 150 grams fresh yuba
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon tempura flour I use gogi brand
- 3 tablespoons water
- Cucumber slices
- Fresh coriander
- To make the soup add all ingredients but the winter melon or daikon to a saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to a low simmer for 10 minutes. Add melon/daikon and cook another 10-15 minutes until vegetables are knife tender.
- To make rice, heat oil in a saucepan to medium-high heat. Add the sliced shallots and fry until they begin to brown. Add garlic and coriander stems (or root). Cook, stirring often, for about 30 seconds. Add ginger and cook another 30 seconds. Tip the rice in and stir to coat all grains with oil. Add stock, leftover mushrooms from the soup (optional), ground shiitake (optional), soy sauce, sugar, and salt. Stir a few times until everything is evenly distributed. Toss the pandan leaf in the pot and poke it down into the rice. Bring to the boil and immediately turn to medium low, cover, and leave to cook for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes turn the heat off but keep the lid on.
- While the rice is cooking, make the dipping sauce. Grind the tao jeow and both kinds of sugars to a smooth paste using a pestle and mortar. Add remaining ingredients stir firmly with the pestle. You can also use a spice grinder for ease or use a store bought chicken rice sauce.
- To make the steamed yuba: Bring a steamer to a rolling boil. Place the marinated yuba on plate and steam for 5 minutes. When finished you can drain any pooled liquid into the soup. Cut the yuba into slices.
- To make the fried yuba: combine the water and tempura flour in a bowl. Coat the yuba evenly with the batter. Deep fry until golden and crispy. Shake off excess oil and cut the yuba into slices.
- Divide the rice between 2 plates and place the yuba over or alongside the rice. Serve with a small ramekin of sauce, a bowl of the soup, a few slices of cucumber, and a sprig or two of coriander.