It’s Congee Time

Many Chinese begin their day with a warm bowl of congee, a watery rice gruel that bears a marked resemblance to porridge. The word congee (also known as jook in Canton) comes from the Indian "kanji", which refers to the water in which the rice has been boiled. In Chinese Food, congee serves two purposes - besides warming the body, it takes the place of a beverage, as the Chinese don't normally serve cold drinks.

To make Chinese congee, white rice is boiled in many times its weight of water for a long time until the rice breaks down and becomes a fairly viscous white porridge. The variety of seasonings used to make congee ensure that it need not ever become boring. It is usually eaten as a savory dish, with zha cai (pickled mustard-green), salted duck eggs, lettuce and dace paste, bamboo shoots, youtiao, wheat gluten, meat, with other condiments, or plain. It is sometimes eaten with meat or century eggs added near the end of the cooking process. Sometimes when the congee is ready, savoury items like minced beef and fish are scalded with the boiling congee which cooks the meat. Other seasonings, such as white pepper and soy sauce, may be added.

Congee is considered a part of traditional Chinese medicine food therapy. Ingredients can be determined by their therapeutic value as well as flavor. In China it is a very quick way to make a filling meal. Congee is often accompanied by fried bread sticks known as youtiao. Congee with youtiao is commonly eaten as breakfast in many areas in China. Congee can be left watery or can be drained so that the congee has a texture that is like Western oatmeal porridge. Congee can also be made from brown rice, although this is less common and takes longer to cook; such congee is recommended for certain conditions in traditional Chinese medicine.

Congee can also be made from other grains, like cornmeal, millet, barley, and sorghum. These are common in the north of China, where rice does not grow. Multigrain congee mixes are popularly sold in the health food sections of Chinese supermarkets. Congee with mung beans is usually eaten with sugar, just like red bean congee. The mung beans are eaten for their therapeutic "cooling" effect.