Stay with us here: Yes, we understand that poached (or steamed) chicken doesn’t look or sound all that sexy. Pale white meat that’s served at room temperature? We wouldn’t blame you for picking crispy fried chicken or marinara-and-cheese–slathered chicken parm every time instead.
But this poultry dish, which is ubiquitous and revered across Asia, is having a moment. And the best versions showcase the chicken’s natural flavors, with a delicate balance of sweet and savory as well as a side of flavorful rice.
Gai Chicken & Rice is the latest in a growing list of restaurants pushing the trend. At Van Da in the East Village, the chicken is shredded in a Vietnamese salad teeming with cabbage and herbs. Meanwhile, a trendy Malaysian spot in Chinatown, Kopitiam, recently added a Chinese rendition to its small menu. The growing popularity of this cooking method can be found outside of Asian restaurants, too—for example, at Brooklyn wine bar Coast and Valley, where slices of meat are artfully fanned out in a bowl of broth that looks like it’s made for Instagram likes.
If you’re not convinced, order off of Gai Chicken & Rice’s menu. Specializing in Thai interpretations of the dish, this spare, brightly lit fast-casual eatery serves four variations. The khao man gai ($11.95) is the most traditional: Boneless dark meat chicken rests on a bed of ginger rice, with a side of ginger-chili sauce and daikon radish soup. While it’s better than the white-meat option ($11.95), it’s perfect for a casual lunch or dinner as you dig into the fragrant chicken and rice.
Just as pleasing, if not more so, is the spicy gai zaab ($11.95), an expertly fried chicken thigh with jaew sauce, a chili-spiked condiment that goes well with the refreshing slices of cucumber. Here, the chicken is perfectly juicy—just like the best versions of this on-the-rise dish.