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.
Even after all of my years of living and traveling in Asia, I have never acquired a taste for congee. I don’t like “Canadian” porridge, so that’s probably why. It does look delicious in your photo.
It’s not as thick, gooey, or grainy as most Canadian porridge or oatmeal.
I’ve never tried congee during my travels to China/ Hong Kong. Is it very popular? Looks kind of like a very thick gravy in your pic.
Gravy is about the right consistency – thicker than stew but not as thick as oatmeal. It’s much lighter and cleaner in flavor than gravy though!
I’ve never had congee but if it’s anything like Canadian porridge then count me out – I was forced to eat that particular comfort food far too many times in my childhood! 🙂 I agree that it does look quite delicious in the photo though!
Whenever I eat in Chinese restaurants, I always just have noodles. For some reason I haven’t a congee there, which is weird since I’m Asian LOL
That looks so inviting, especially on a cold morning. I’ve had these back in the days when I was in the Philippines.
Yes, I usually eat this when the weather is colder, but in Hong Kong it’s popular year round.
I’ve never tried it before, does it taste like grits?
I’ve never had grits so I’m not sure. 🙂
I’m not a fan of porridge so am not sure I’d like it but am sure I’d give it a try if I was in Hong Kong.
Oh HK, how I miss your delicious food. Never did try congee though.
I always like to sample the local cuisine when I travel, but I’m not sure that I’d like congee. My husband has adventurous tastes and he might enjoy congee with organs.
I love porridge so maybe – non organ meat version please – congee would go down OK. I’m not particularly adventurous with me eating but I think I could handle this.
Somehow, I never found congee appealing, and I like porridge. Must be very filling.
It’s funny how often the hole-in-the-wall places have the best food. I like how there are so many version of congee, especially depending on the time of day.
Certainly an interesting post, Ryan, I’m not sure it would be to my taste. As already stated, the photo does make it look good, though.
Growing up in Texas in a Cantonese-American family, we always had turkey congee (my mom calls it loogow) the weekend after Thanksgiving. I definitely consider it a comfort food and sometimes make my morning instant oatmeal thick with chicken bouilion and green onions for faux congee.
Faux congee sounds interesting. I’ll have to try one of these weekends. Thanks!
i think it’s this > Lee Yuen Congee Noodles
I think that’s right. Thanks!