Comfort Me With Congee
It’s soft, warm and slips down easily. Within its milky whiteness you find bits of salty goodness— crunchy peanuts, juicy wontons, or slivers of fish. It’s particularly nice on a sore throat and heaven to eat on a chilly rainy day. It warms your belly and soothes your digestive system. And I have it on very good authority that it is just the thing for hangovers. Congee, or rice porridge, is truly the ultimate Asian comfort food.
The great thing about congee is that it can be made to suit any taste. From century egg and pork blood to simple tender chunks of chicken, congee can be custom designed to fit anybody’s palate. Personally, I have always been partial to congee with fresh slices of fish and a handful of peanuts strewn on top. Although it is traditionally eaten for breakfast, congee can be availed of during any meal of the day or as snacks between meals.
Each place you frequent has its own distinctive way of garnishing its congee.
Most congee is served with green onions on top while others come fragrant with ginger or dotted with sesame oil. Similarly, congee can be found all over Asia, with slight variations from country to country. In the Philippines, for example, congee is known as arroz caldo and comes adorned with chunks of chicken, green onion, ginger and crispy bits of deep fried garlic.
Usually on the table at a place that serves congee, you’ll find a couple of staples for jazzing up your bowl to suit your tastes. First of all, there is white pepper. This is a staple for me. I’ve found that a fine dusting of the finely ground stuff delicately enhances the flavour of the congee.
On the other hand, vinegar imparts an added tang to the congee which I have found that I am not partial to. Another decision to be made is the addition of soy sauce or salt. I prefer salt in my congee as I find soy a tad overpowering. At the same time, the beauty of congee is precisely the choice of whether or not to add anything to it at all.
I didn’t know a lot about how to eat congee, until my best friend, a fellow foodie and congee addict, took me out and showed me how to eat it Chinese style.
This involved ordering a bunch of other side dishes to go with it and all sorts of delightful forays into dunking said sides into our bowls until the congee turned soupier, saltier and even more delicious.
Chinese doughnuts (you tiao) are a prime example of acceptable dunking fare. After being placed in the congee the doughnuts soak up the broth and turn soft and chewy.
Another variation on this theme is the Chinese doughnut wrapped in rice noodle (zha liang). Still another option is to order a side of soy sauce fried noodles and to stir bits of the noodles in little by little until the congee takes on the salty flavour of the noodles.
Everyone’s Got a Favourite…
Every single Chinese restaurant in the Lower Mainland and beyond has congee on its menu. You can basically avail of it anywhere and everywhere and often I do. However, there are two places that stand out in my mind when I want congee. One of them is the high-end option and the other is the low-end option. I’ll provide you with both:
Congee Noodle House (not to be confused with the newly opened No. 1 Congee Noodle House.)
The original Congee Noodle House boasts of the richest, creamiest congee in town. This place has simply amazingly smooth congee and aside from a slight dash of white pepper, nothing else needs to be added to this bowl! I love that they serve it with a huge handful of crunchy salty peanuts and long shreds of green onion.
141 E Broadway (between Main and Quebec)
Tel. (604) 879-8221
Sunday to Thursday from 8:30 am to 1 am; open till 2 am on Friday.
Wah Yuen Noodle House
I can’t actually pinpoint the reason why this place has such a great hold on me, but every time I frequent Yaohan Centre, the thought of a steaming bowl of Wah Yuen’s congee flashes through my mind. Then, I have got to have it. Wah Yuen’s congee is inexpensive, they have a huge assortment of types of congee and it is very decent stuff for the food court. Upon ordering my favourite, I found the congee to be rich and not watery, the fish to be firm, juicy and fresh and the perfume of the sesame oil dotted on top of the congee made my stomach rumble. Street food at its best!
The food court of Yaohan Centre 1035-3700 No. 3 Road_Richmond
Monday to Sunday from 9:30 am to 9:00 pm