Malacca Chicken Rice Balls
These little balls of chicken rice may be small in size, but are definitely big in flavour.
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Visitors to the historic city of Malacca often hear about the great food that can be found there. There are the authentic Nyonya food restaurants in the city, spicy Portuguese food at Portuguese settlements and grilled seafood at Umbai, but perhaps no dish is better known in Malacca than chicken rice balls.
The people in Malacca have an interesting way of serving simple Hainanese chicken rice. Instead of serving the rice in a bowl, the chicken rice is shaped into ping pong sized balls and served with chicken and the usual condiments. The rice is usually made stickier so that it can hold its shape. Everything is eaten exactly the same way, with a piece of the chicken, the chilli sauce and cucumber placed on a ball of rice. This way, one can enjoy one harmonious burst of flavour, with the chicken, rice and chilli sauce all blending together.
Why is it that the rice is served in a shape of a ball instead of in a bowl? The older chefs believe that this was first done to let the rice retain its warmth. Another belief is that this practice made it easier for labourers who were working the fields to transport rice from home. Though people may have used their own hands to shape these balls in the earlier years, restaurants owners these days rely more on machinery to churn out hundreds of rice balls a day to cope with increasing demand. It is also more hygienic and ensures that each rice ball is consistent in size.
Today, the idea of eating chicken rice shaped into balls is more for the sake of novelty rather than convenience. Some of the more famous chicken rice ball shops in Malacca have a waiting time of at least half an hour or more, especially during the weekends at peak hours. Shops like Hoe Kee Chicken Rice Ball and Chung Hwa Restaurant, both at Jonker Walk, have long queues. The wait times at shops popular amongst locals can last up to an hour during lunch time! Compared to normal chicken rice, you may also pay a bit more at RM0.20 per ball, not including the price of a serving of chicken. As folks in Malacca have long known, however, this is a dish worth going the extra mile for.
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