The Many Kinds of Congee

The Many Kinds of Congee

Rice gruel. Not liquid, not solid, but rice and water cooked to a spoonable consistency. it is surprising how many conflicting views exist about the correct way to go about cooking it. Some says wash the rice, others says don't wash away the starch which surrounds the grains. One says soak the rice for a few hours, another says to drop the rice into boiling water, yet another prefers to put rice and cold water into the pan and bring to the boil, then keep at a quick simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

There is more than one kind of congee. On the streets of Asian cities in the early morning where Chinese workers are breakfasting after a night's labor, or fortifying themselves for the day's work ahead, there are stalls selling congee accompanied by deep fried Chinese crullers (long sticks of yeast dough) and what the stall-holder euphemistically calls "pig's spare parts". These include intestines and other offal.

Another kind of congee is more refined, being simply rice simmered in water to make a thick gruel. Served at the breakfast buffet in international hotels in Asia, congee is kept piping hot in cauldron and surrounded by many accompaniments.

Western travelers may give their attention to fruit platters, cereal, bacon and eggs, toast or pancakes; but Asian seem to gravitate to this most basic comfort food and usually start the day with rice congee. Among the taste side dishes offered with the congee will be such pungent items as salted radish, sliced green onions, fried shallots, fried garlic and chili, crispy fried salted fish, fermented black beans, chicken cooked in soy sauce, fried peanuts, soy sauce and oriental sesame oil. Accompaniments are added in very modest amounts, since congee is the main event and anything else is simply a seasoning.

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