Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In praise of Congee

The ultimate comfort food! It's what your parents serve you when you feel poorly and a bowl of congee is all you crave for. There's always congee bubbling away for breakfast. All it needs is a couple of condiments that's usually salty and pickled and you're all set for the day, until lunch at least!

When we feel homesick for home food, we always think of congee. It's very easy to prepare and you can just have a few of your favourite condiments. No point ordering congee from any Chinese food premises here. The rice porridge is always overcooked until it becomes a starchy sludge. You can order a chicken, pork or fish ball or duck congee. But whatever they top it with, you alway feel you are having a paste that they put up posters with.

Last week, Auntie Jenny had a congee dinner on a rapidly cooling autumn night. She cooked the rice in extra water and added a ham hock to add substance to the porridge. To boost the taste of the porridge, you can add dried scallops (干贝 kung yee chee). Fish heads have always been used in seafood porridge as a natural sweetener and flavour boost. Or you can use chicken stock. Add a few slices of fresh ginger when you cook the porridge. Most of the condiments can be prepared beforehand or from your pickled jars.

  • deep fried dried anchovies/ikan billis. If you don't wish to upset your minimalist kitchen, Angie at Sri Pinang can deep fry them for you.
  • dried salted fish. Stir fry or grill to maximise flavour.
  • pickled radish
  • Tianjin preserved vegetable (tang chye)
  • Preserved vegetable hearts (kiam chye sim). Squeeze lime juice and sprinkle sliced chilli. In SE Asia, we use calamansi.
  • preserved vegetable (kiam chye). Slice it into small strips and boost the salty flavour with lime juice and fresh cut chilli.
  • pickled leek (kew tau)
  • sliced cucumber, pickled in mirin or vinegar, pinch of salt and sugar and sliced chilli
  • eggs many ways. Omelette, sliced into thin strips. Or just break an egg on top of each (hot) congee serving.
  • hundred year old-eggs (phee tan).
  • salted eggs. Or boiled eggs, with just soft york. Cut into quarters and drizzle with light soy, and white pepper.
  • Fermented beancurd sesame oil (tau chio). Also referred to as Chinese cheese! An acquired taste, perfect for congee. Squeeze lime juice over the tauchio and add sliced chilli.
  • small pork meat balls, with tang chye chopped in). Cook with porridge.
  • Fish balls. Keep them small (ditto pork meat balls). No cricket-sized meat or fish balls, thank you.
  • Fish cake, thinly sliced.
  • Shredded poached chicken strips. Help yourself to this meat option as it shouldn't be cooked with the porridge.
  • Cantonese Chinese have sliced beef with scrambled egg congee. The egg is broken over the hot congee.
  • Rainbow Taro Congee: with taro or kumara, carrot, water chestnuts, all diced + green peas (no joke! After all, it's Rainbow Taro Congee).
  • Frog legs congee (well, after all Chinese eat everything with legs or wings, except aeroplanes)
  • Flavoured ginger and onion oil
  • Stir -fried vegetables. Stir fry in garlic bitter gourd or kamo kamo. Also shitake mushroom. Anotther Auntie recently stir-fried snake beans (or green beans) with dried black Chinese olives (oh cho). Avoid leafy greens.
  • bonus add: yew char kway or Chinese beignet. Mostly a morning deep fried beignet in Asia. The ones you find here are not freshly fried. They become very oily and the longer they stay on the shelf, the more chewy they become until you feel you are chewing on a rubber band. The perfect yew char kway is crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. The two strips of dough should be stuck together, cooked in hot oil. Many oils are over-utilised, they impart a rancid flavour to the beignet. If the oil is not hot enough, the yew char kway will be oily when it taken out of the deep-fryer. Scissor-cut the beignet and either top the porridge or leave in bowl for self-assembly.
  • sesame oil 
  • light soya sauce
         CONGEE ASSEMBLY (Food in a Minute, not)
  • Try a few condiments first, not more that four at a time. Otherwise your palate will become sodium confused.
  • garnish with deep-fried shallots
  • if flavoured ginger and onion oil is not prepared, a couple of seame oil is an alternative.
  • sprinkle with roasted or deep fried peanuts, preferably with skin on.
  • sprinkle with finely sliced spring onions to complete the garnish.
  • a few drops of light soya sauce on non-salty items like meat balls, fish balls, egg.
  • white pepper is a must for congee. Sprinkle last. 
* I know Quick Smart is trade marked. Pointless banning me from using it as nobody reads my food blog.


  1. Hey you forgot to write about the #1 congee partner - yau ja gwai or patanko as Thai people call them - the baguette of the east.

  2. Wah, you reading my blog! Honoured man. Ok, will edit and add the yau ja gwai. Wait till I get back to KL next week. I will write about the Shao Loong Bao!