Almost every culture has their own version of a hot, blandish dish that brings immeasurable emotional comfort. Oatmeal, porridge, potage, risotto, arroz caldo, daal—that thick bowl of something is there for cold days, sad days or when you need a bit of a hug.
For me, that dish is congee. Also called jook, or a variety of other names, it’s a creamy-tasting savoury Chinese rice porridge. It’s also the most amazing food you will ever, and I mean ever, eat.
Congee is one of my earliest food memories and still one of my favourites. Here in Toronto, I get it from King’s Noodle, a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown I’ve been going to for years. When you go, order it with youtiao (fried doughnuts) for dipping.
Taking a congee to a knife fight
I knew that King’s Noodle was going to make an appearance in Masked Desire, and it all came together when Michaela met Ivy and her parents for brunch. Because she’s a nice woman, of course Michaela would bring the others back something to eat. And because I love congee, at least one of my characters was going to love it as well (Eric was the lucky one).
The idea of using congee as a weapon came after I burnt the living hell out of my mouth. Fair warning, they serve it straight from the stove, so it’s always piping hot. Once I had Michaela walking with that boiling congee in a container and an attacker came along—yeah. He was going to get it in the face.
That was a great scene to write. But poor Eric never got that congee.
My plain congee recipe
- Take a handful of white long-grain rice. No other rice. Not brown, not basmati. This is important.
- Put it in a pot with 1/3 a chicken bouillon cube (I use Knorr because that’s what my mother used) and about 1.5 cups of water.
- Add a minced garlic clove
- Add ½ teaspoon finely minced ginger. Use fresh ginger.
- Three drops sesame seed oil. Too much will overwhelm the congee.
- Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until you have a fragrant bowl of mushy rice. This does not sound appealing, but I swear it is.
- Optional: top with soy sauce or chives.
You can go online for more recipes but really, congee is a personal preference thing. Some people like it more liquid and some prefer it thicker. Play around! You can add any protein you want, as well. Happy eating.