Congee topped with green onions and served with fried bread sticks.
This is my perfect breakfast – a steamy bowl of congee topped with green onions and served with fried bread sticks. (Photo Credit: Delicious congee and fried cruller by Flickr user ironypoisoning)

Have you heard of congee, jook or rice porridge? All three names refer to the same thing: in its simplest form, it’s just rice and water simmered together for hours. Congee is a very versatile dish. Consistencies vary from thick and creamy to thin and broth-like. It can be plain, or flavoured by cooking the rice in stock, and it can be cooked with ingredients or fillings like meat or fish. Not to mention, it goes well with various toppings and side dishes.

Congee is a staple in many Asian countries. Types and toppings vary from country to country and from region to region. It makes a wonderful breakfast, satisfying lunch, comforting dinner or late night snack. To me, it is my ultimate comfort food. It is what I crave when I feel under the weather or when I just miss home. This simple rice porridge is easily digested. Chinese medicine believes that congee gives our digestion a break which promotes healing in the body. And congee, in a thinner form or just the liquid strained from it, is usually the first food given to babies.

Some of the popular congee garnishes and side dishes.
Nothing beats a big bowl of congee topped with porridge chips, and served with some steamed rice noodle rolls and sticky rice dumplings. (Photo Credit, from left to right, top to bottom: 皮蛋艘肉粥 Century Egg and Pork Congee – HK Dim Sum Glen Waverley AUD6 – by Julia by Flickr User avlxyz, Chee Cheong Fun by Flickr User lricharz, Homemade Zongzi 粽子 by Flickr User beautifulcataya)

Tips for Eating Congee:

  • Congee retains heat for quite a long time, so it is best consumed with a ceramic or porcelain Chinese spoon at a slower pace so you don’t burn your mouth. 
  • If you can’t wait for the congee to cool down, skim off the coolest, top layer of congee with your Chinese spoon and guide it into your mouth. Repeat, repeat…and repeat again.
  • Many different ingredients can go into in a congee. Some of the most popular ingredients include: mince, chicken, (fresh or dried) seafood, preserved egg (thousand year old egg).
  • Since the rice porridge is normally soupy and soft, many people like to add a crispy element to it for some textural contrast. I am fond of adding slices of fried bread stick or porridge chips to my congee.
  • You can also dress your congee up with these traditional garnishes: soy sauce, chopped green onions, white pepper, sesame oil, or pork floss.
  • Congee is soup-like so you can pair it with some side dishes to fill your belly. Here are some of my favourite Chinese side dishes to go with congee: fried bread sticks, soy sauce fried noodles, sticky rice dumplings, steamed rice noodle rolls (also called cheong fun in Cantonese). 
  • But all in all, the beauty of congee is there is no right or wrong way to eat it!

Did You Know?

  • Congee in Hong Kong is typically spiked with various ingredients and some congee has interesting names too. For example, 艇仔粥 (literal translation: sampan or small boat congee) is one with squid, fried pork skin, and ground meat. 
  • You can make plain congee a day or two ahead, and store it in the fridge. Whenever you need it, just bring it to boil and pop in some desired ingredients, like marinated mince or leftover roasted chicken. 
  • It’s crucial to stir the congee every 10-15 minutes while cooking to prevent burning of the rice on the bottom. If scorched, you can kiss the whole pot goodbye.
  • Rice porridge comes in many different names and is served with various ingredients around the world. There are, for example, lugaw in the Philippines, chào gà in Vietnam, okayu in Japan, and juk in Korea.

Check out this video on how congee is made with copper pots and raw meat ingredients in Hong Kong. The chef used a big pot of plain congee as the base too. 

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).

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