Lor Mai Gai, The Kopitiam Snack From My Childhood

One of my earliest food memories is going to the now-defunct Lakeview market early in the morning with my grandparents for breakfast. It always felt like a tight little community – you inevitably bump into a neighbour or the teachers from the nearby PAP kindergarten. My favourite stall was the bao shop, situated right at the top of the stairs – the char siu baos were my favourite, though on occasion, lor mai gai made for a convenient and tiny snack.

Literally meaning ‘glutinous rice chicken’, it is always served straight from the steamer, in its little foil cup. You had to carefully uncrimp the foil around the edges of the cardboard to get to the glutinous rice and chicken. It was so basic with the whitish glutinous rice and peppery chicken, but it was such a hearty snack. In retrospect, those factory-made lor mai gais weren’t that great, but I always remember lor mai gai fondly because of those memories attached to it.

Lor mai gai is commonly confused with fan choy, which has the same overturned, domed appearance. Fan choy is like lor mai gai‘s fancier cousin, boasting thick slices of char siu and hard-boiled eggs. It is made with jasmine rice and char siu sauce, so it can feel a little like a way to repurpose leftover char siu rice. Lor mai gai originated from dim sum parlours, where it is often served in lotus leaves instead of the foil cups that we now see in kopitiam lor mai gais. The original version is generous with add-ons, which range from salted egg yolks to even cured pork belly in some luxe versions. It also is darker than the kopitiam lor mai gai.

The recipe that I am sharing here is an upscale version of lor mai gai, closer to the spirit of the original than the kopitiam version, which I honestly think was made in such a way to cut costs. This version can be said to be something like a fan choy, made the lor mai gai way.

If you want to make it the kopitiam way, omit the dark soy sauce from the rice and the chicken mixture. Only use chicken as your topping (leave out the dried shiitake, char siu/ lapcheong and hard-boiled eggs), and add a generous amount of white pepper to the marinade.

Lor Mai Gai

Makes 6 snack-sized lor mai gais

For the chicken marinade

200g boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into 12 pieces (or 3 King oyster mushroom, cut into 12 pieces)

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of white pepper

1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce or cooking caramel

1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the mushrooms:

12 small or 6 medium dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 350g hot water

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce or cooking caramel

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

100g water

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 100g water

For the glutinous rice:

300g glutinous rice, soaked in water for at least 6 hours, drained

4 tablespoons oil

1 onion, peeled and diced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

4-5 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

400g water

For the assembly:

3 hard boiled eggs, cut in quarters or 1 square of taukwa, cut into 12

12 pieces charsiu, 18 slices lapcheong or 6 slices of panfried tempeh

Spring onion or coriander (optional)

At least 6 hours before cooking, mix the chicken with the rest of the marinade ingredients and set in your refrigerator to chill. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water, and glutinous rice in a copious amount of room temperature water.

When ready to cook, combine the dried mushrooms, its soaking liquid, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce and water in a pot. Bring to a boil, then add the marinated chicken pieces. When the chicken pieces are cooked, add the cornstarch slurry and cook until the gravy thickens.

For the rice, heat oil in a big wok or large saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fry over high heat until well-browned before adding the garlic. When the garlic is fragrant, add the drained glutinous rice and toss to coat. Add the five spice powder, dark soy sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. Gradually add the water in batches, stirring and cooking until the rice is completely tender.

It is best to assemble the lor mai gai while the rice is hot. To ensure that your lor mai gais loosen from the bowls perfectly, it is best to run the bowls under water and shake off the excess water. Divide the chicken, mushroom, charsiu or lapcheong and eggs amongst bowls. Add the rice to cover the toppings, and compact with a wet spoon. Cover with a plate or tin foil and steam over high heat for 15 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and overturn immediately while hot. Serve with coriander or spring onions and your favourite chilli sauce.

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Author:

Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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