Saturday, April 7, 2012


Congee is Chinese rice soup or porridge, often served at breakfast or brunch, which essentially is nothing more than rice cooked in water (1:9 ratio or so, instead of the more typical 1:2) until it breaks down into gelatinous goo.

It may look like Cream of Wheat, but congee is celiac-friendly.

It's surprisingly satisfying and tasty. And it costs almost nothing! A handful of rice, water, and ginger to make the most simple version.

There are as many ways to make congee (or "jook") as there are spaghetti sauce recipes or dal recipes or potato salad. It's one of those terrific foods that has endless possibilities for customization.

Baby bok choy, pan-fried tofu and a chunk of ginger - easy and delicious!

It's also a very, very good thing to know how to make if you're looking after someone who is suffering from the flu or gastrointestinal misery. It's gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free (unless you add it in), and it fits into the "BRAT" diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast - recommended foods by Western physicians when one has GI upset).

Ginger may not be on the BRAT list - you can leave it out if you like, or you can take a page from Eastern medicine which holds that ginger is excellent for aiding digestion. I believe it - I used to have flat ginger ale every time I had the flu as a kid. It sat well with me.

Obviously green onions are completely optional.
Although white rice has a high glycemic index (and is therefore not recommended for diabetics), congee can be made with other varieties of rice, notably sweet black sticky rice.

Congee has long been considered a health food. In fact, the Buddha himself is quoted as saying of congee that it gives:
"life and beauty, ease and strength. It dispels hunger, thirst and wind. It cleanses the bladder. It digests food."
I think my husband would appreciate any wind-dispelling effects it might have. Ahem.

Congee stretches how far your rice can go, and so it's a very economical choice. 1/2 a cup of rice may yield 1 to 2 portions when steamed, but cooked in water congee style, the number of portions would triple. It's no wonder that congee is commonly eaten in Buddhist monasteries (or so I've read).

I'm not even sure there's just one congee recipe I'd recommend, but here's a very, very basic one which makes several servings (probably 3-4, depending on how much you'd like to eat):

Basic, Plain Congee
1/2 cup long grain white rice
4 1/2 cups water
a thumb-sized piece of peeled fresh ginger
salt to taste (keep it light - too much sodium is bad for you!)

Put all ingredients into a pot (for which you have a lid) and bring to a boil, stirring every so often. Reduce the heat to low (simmer), cover with the lid and cook, stirring every once and a while, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Let sit 10 minutes or more prior to serving, and watch out for bubbling sticky rice - it burns skin like mad!
The yellow chunk is the ginger.

Congee can easily be made in a slow-cooker or crockpot, too.

If you eat meat, you might consider putting in a raw chicken or turkey wing at the outset. Once you've finished cooking over the 1 1/2 - 2 hours, remove it and cut it into bite-sized pieces to stir back in. I've never had it this way, and the only way (in recent memory) that I've had it at a restaurant (with dim sum) was with seafood (fish, squid, etc.).

Congee apparently became 'trendy' in the past few years (I have to admit - I find food trends insidious and irritating! If it's good, make it! Nevermind what's en vogue!). Reading online about cool Manhattan congee joints just made me laugh! These cities have nothing on Vancouver, eh?

I just did a search via Google for "Congee Vancouver". You don't have to go to some trendy downtown restaurant to find congee here! In fact, there's even fast-food congee at City Square Mall, and three restaurants with "congee" in their names around Main and Broadway! And that's not even mentioning what's on offer in Richmond, a quick CanadaLine ride away!

If Wild Rice offers congee, try it. It's one of my favourite restaurants in all of Vancouver, and you can get there easily from Kits via the #22 or #4 buses. Kirin downtown has excellent dim sum and congee, too.

There are a gazillion different congee recipes. Here are a few I've found online, but haven't yet tried:

Cantonese Lean Pork & Century Egg Congee
Vietnamese Chicken and Long Grain Rice Congee 
Turkey Wing Simple Congee
Mixed Seafood Congee
Heartwarming Chicken Congee 
Moosewood's Savory Congee
Vegetarian-Style Congee (from Epicurious - this has so many ingredients!)

8 Treasure Sweet Potato Congee (Heart & Stroke Foundation)
Maple Syrup Congee
Sweet Spiced Congee
Black Sweet Rice Congee with Longan

Lemongrass Scented Congee

So there you have it! One more easy dish to make with rice. I love meals based on economical staples. Congee is especially handy, because you can cook it in the slow-cooker while you do other things. Apparently some rice makers even have an overnight 'congee' setting so you can have it hot for breakfast.

More inspiration: a Chowhound board on Congee -

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