Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts About Congee

Congee, rice porridge or "jook," has been a staple for Asians for years. It is one of those dishes that can be considered the most basic of Asian comfort foods. I have yet to find an Asian culture where it doesn't exist in one form or another. Yet is all goes back to the basic ingredients of rice and water.  The congee I grew up with was made with a thick porridge-like consistency.  Congee could also be made thinner with more water. I've seen and eaten congee where the water is completely separated from the grains of rice, which haven't been boiled down.

Condiments vary with congee and reflect local tastes.  For example, in Hong Kong, the Chinese add slices of thousand-year old duck eggs, which is a fermented egg into congee.  Other common toppings are salted pork, peanuts, scallions, fish balls, fish cakes, chicken gizzards, etc.  In Thailand, toppings include cilantro, pork bits and chopped salted vegetables. (see picture) Congee can be found at many street food carts. In Singapore, I discovered that MacDonalds offers a "MacPorridge" bowl for its breakfast diners. As you can see, you really don't have to go far to find a cheap and satisfying bowl of congee that will tie you over until lunch.

In parts of Asia, a common complement to congee is the addition of the cruller, a long stick-shaped fried bread.  Now all jokes aside, the sizes do vary by region.  In the picture above, taken in Thailand, I have found that the crullers are about the size as a finger and are sold in bags of 10 or 15 (about 33 cents).  They are delicious when dipped or added into the congee.  In the United States and Hong Kong, crullers or "you tiao" are about a foot long and can be separated into two by tearing it apart.  At some restaurants, the crullers are cut into little bits and slices and are added to the congee.  Once again, the cruller represents comfort food at its finest.

From an Asian-American perspective, congee represents thoughts of home and what it was like when mom provided for all your basic needs. Congee was and is still used as a recovery food after an illness because of its neutral properties as it's just rice and water, with no harmful additives. No matter how congee is taken, whether it's a breakfast. lunch, dinner or snack, there is always a place for it during the day.  Hundreds of millions of Asians and Asian-Americans agree and for those who are new to congee, give it a try, it's healthy, tasty and easy to make!

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