Growing up in a Hainanese home, we ate chicken rice very often for meals.  It is family tradition for us to eat chicken rice balls instead of rice. I swear that chicken rice balls taste so much better than eating rice.

A standard chicken rice meal at home prepared by my maternal grandmother or mom, depending on who was the chef of the day, has steamed chicken, chicken rice balls, chap-chye, cabbage or seawood soup and chili for dipping. 

One bite of the rice ball, one bite of chicken dipped in chili sauce, another bite of the rice ball.   Using our hands.   

It is fascinating to watch my grandmother deftly shape chicken rice balls from piping hot rice using her bare hands.  I used to think that her hands must be made of leather for her to handle such hot rice without flinching from the pain.  Her chicken rice balls are always very firm and not oily (oil from the chicken is required to ‘glue’ the rice grains together). 

I tried making a chicken rice ball myself many times with my hands but without success.  The rice is too hot for me to handle!  I have since decided that it is easier to buy an onigiri mould from Daiso for such purposes.


I love chicken rice balls and could eat up to three of my grandmother’s rice balls at any one sitting when I was younger.     But don’t be deceived by the rice balls – they may look small but each rice ball packs a pretty big serving of rice.  I think 7 rice balls of the size seen in the photo came from 3 cups of rice. Plus the rice balls are made of ‘very fattening’ chicken rice.

My plebian husband cannot appreciate rice balls because he does not like eating with his hands.   I remember how he jabbed at the rice ball with his fork to break it up when he ate this at my mom’s place for the first time.  Right at the dinner table.  In front of all of us.  I was so horrified!  It had taken so much effort for my grandmother to shape a rice ball and this guy had just demolished my family tradition with his fork so carelessly.  I wanted to box his ears right there and then.  Since that incident, my mom always serves him a plate of rice while the rest of us eat our rice balls.

I also love mom’s chap-chye.  Just that it takes so much work to make chap-chye and I am not inclined to try.  Nowadays,mom makes me a huge portion of chap-chye to take home.  I will slowly ration the chap-chye for dinner over the week .   

I have always eaten my chap-chye bibimbap-style.  Scoop chap-chye over hot rice, throw in a generous dollop of mom’s home-made chili, and mix everything up in the bowl.  Mmmmmm.

Family Tradition and Chicken Rice Balls

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