Congee, or jook, as it’s known in Cantonese, is a rice porridge that is found all over Asia. It is either eaten plain with very flavorful side dishes or cooked with meats, fish, or vegetables and infused with those flavors. In Hong Kong it is usually a morning, afternoon, or late night dish and, like chicken soup in the west, it is commonly consumed when feeling a little under the weather.
Plain congee served with salty or spicy side dishes like salt and pepper tofu, salted duck eggs, and fermented vegetables is the late night version of the dish. This congee is typically a little watery, mostly flavourless, and takes on the taste of whatever you mix into it. The daytime version of congee is a little thicker and may be cooked with meat or bones to give it a slightly meaty taste and feel. Some of the more traditional ingredients for this style of jook include:
- Preserved duck egg and salted pork
- Chinese dried scallops or oysters
- Any kind of fish
In addition to these simple versions there are also a few traditional congee ‘mixes':
- Tang jai jook: aka sam pan or fisherman’s congee, typically contains assorted fish, squid, and asian meatballs.
- Cup dai jook: the nose-to-tail version including pork liver, pork kidney, pork intestine, meatball and for some unknown reason a little beef
Congee is sometimes ordered along with a salty deep fried dough and is usually sprinkled with green onion and peanuts. White pepper is typically added to taste.
When I eat out I almost always get the organ-loaded cup dai jook (pictured above) because it’s impractical to source and clean all the ingredients for that at home. Making congee at home is actually fairly easy, which is why this is a traditional comfort food. If you grew up in a Cantonese house your parents probably made this for you.
My favorite home versions of congee are somewhat westernized: turkey jook made with the leftover bones and meat from Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner as well as jook made with the bone and leftover baked ham from Easter dinner. To keep it more Chinese I’ll cut in a preserved duck egg just before serving. I’ve recently found a great slow cooker recipe [returnoftheyummy.blogspot.ca] that I use but I substitute these ingredients. The slow cooker method provides a very nice smooth, thick, creamy, and meaty porridge when cooked with the bones.
Like macaroni soup [averagetraveller.com], congee can be found at one of the many noodle shops littered around the city. If there are bbq meats hanging in the window the chances are good that you can order congee there. Unlike macaroni soup, however, there is a greater variance between texture and flavor from place to place so people tend to have stronger opinions on where the best jook is sold. Some places will add rice flour or break up the rice kernels before cooking to get some extra silkiness and thickness to the porridge; however, that is considered cheating by purists.
When in Hong Kong I didn’t seek out great congee so I can’t make any good recommendations; however, the congee at my favorite sticky-hole-in-the-wall noodle shop in Causeway Bay made the perfectly good version pictured above. Like many of the best places for comfort food in Hong Kong I have no idea if this place even has an English name because the sign is all in Chinese. It’s located around 535 Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay, right behind the Sogo Department store and next to a very blue and easily recognizable toy shop called Trendyland.
This is the second post in my Hong Kong Comfort Foods series:
And was posted to Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Traveler’s Sandbox.