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Stretch our your meals with congee, the Chinese food that goes with everything

Make the most of your meals by making China’s most underrated traditional food: congee.

A staple for Chinese households and restaurants everywhere, congee is long overdue for more recognition. Although it has a reputation for being bland, congee offers many useful benefits.

Congee is a great way to extend supplies of rice for people trying to stretch out their food supplies. As well, congee is a versatile food that matches well with whatever food you have leftover in your fridge.

And yet, the best thing of all about congee is its universal accessibility — even to people who’ve never made it before. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s likely you can make it at home right now.

congee chinese food

Preparation process

Congee (also called zhou, or 粥) is a simple food with only two basic ingredients: rice and water.

To prepare congee, rice is cooked in a boiling pot of water until it breaks down into a thick porridge. Unlike regular cooked rice that boils away excess water, congee retains most of its water. The result is a thick, white liquid wherein the rice grains have mostly distintegrated.

Congee is very versatile. You can spice it up any number of ways by adding salt, pepper, oil, and many others. You can also make it thick or thin according to your preference, thereby rendering all  congee recipes as being “just do it however you like.”

A Western palate may look down upon such a concoction as gruel fit only for consumption by orphans. And yet, the concept behind congee isn’t to necessarily eat it as some act of self-discipline. Instead, congee is a traditional Chinese food that is almost always paired with foods with strong tastes, allowing for daring combinations to delight the senses.

congee chinese food

Ideal match

Essentially tasteless, congee is supposed to be bland. What sometimes gets lost in translation is the idea to eat it with heavily-flavoured food. By balancing the two together, diners can mitigate overbearing flavours of ingredients with the blandness of this staple food.

And what foods we have. Congee has traditionally been paired with some of Chinese cuisine’s most flavourful ingredients. These include century eggs, pork liver, pork blood, and raw ginger. Overwhelming on their own, these ingredients go down well when accompanied by a big bowl of congee.

In addition to taste, congee embodies a traditional Chinese medicinal concept that similarily uses it blandness as a strength. Congee is considered to be a “cool” food when it comes to maintaining the body’s internal balance of heat. As such, it matches well with “hot” foods that are fried and generally unhealthy, thereby making congee “healthy.”

This could lead to some wild combinations. With congee, it’s not out of the question to add ingredients like fried egg or bacon on top. Anchovies, artichoke, prosciutto — just about anything can become a great topping for congee.

congee chinese food

Comfort food that comforts

Congee’s biggest association has to do with its nourishing and healing qualities. By being so bland, congee is a food that is highly suitable for ill patients or babies. For the same reason, it is also a great hangover food to make on Sunday afternoons (that happens to be easy to make as well).

Congee is by no means a rich and oily food. However, it still provides the same feeling as that given by popular comfort foods.  This paradoxical benefit comes from congee’s appealing and smooth texture, making for an enriching mouth feel.

For these reasons, congee is a comforting food in its own right. Its rich texture and lack of flavour give it an enriching feeling. It is a great palate cleanser that you’ll find yourself coming back for more.

For all these reasons, it’s time that this overlooked food gets more attention. It’s a great alternative to cooked rice that goes well with everything. For your next meal, try congee!

Images: Flickr (2, 3, 4)

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