Seasonal Almanac

Frost descent: insects tuck themsleves away (4 of 5)

May 4th, 2009

Frost descent 14 of 15Rice congee (粥 or jook) is rice boiled in water until the grain breaks down; it varies from the luxuriously thick and viscous porridge-like meal to the refreshingly thin broth. As a breakfast, it is usually eaten with accompanients like fried dough (油炸鬼 also known as ‘oil-fried devil’) and rice flour rolls (豬腸粉). As a midday meal, you might add steamed Chinese broccoli/ kai-lan with oyster sauce, and fried noodles to your order.

This simple meal used to be a cheap and cheery affair bought from street vendors and cooked food stalls (大牌檔). Nowadays, things have become a little bit more ‘sophisticated’. When visiting Hong Kong, one of my aunts would take us to a congee specialist store, called Seaview (which is nowhere near the sea nor does it have an ocean view). You choose your congee (plain, chicken, fish, beef etc. etc.) and your snacks from a printed spreadsheet and order by filling in the proforma.

In contrast to this not altogether healthy menu, plain rice congee is believed to be restorative. As such it is often fed to the sick or people convalesing. My grandfather stays home every Monday and have plain congee for lunch to ‘clean’ his system – to ‘purge’ the weekly consumption of greasy (油膩) and ‘dry-fire’ (燥火) Cantonese style food.

As the weather is cooling and temperatures have been fluctuating, my upbringing tells me that it is time to take preventative measures against colds and flus. I whipped up some congee for our lunch.

One Response to “Frost descent: insects tuck themsleves away (4 of 5)”

  1. 1 jolaw
    May 6th, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Silvia, I found out that congee is almost universal in Asian cultures. Each has a slight variation on how the meal is cooked (e.g. viscosity, flavour) as well as usage (e.g. breakfast, lunch, babyfood etc.).

    So there is also a range of ways of cooking it. My mum’s is very thin and flavourless – probably a more traditional way of making the dish when rice was more scarce. It also used to be more common to serve it with salted duck eggs (the saltiness of the egg makes you eat more congee and therefore get fuller without the need for other dishes). Most ones that are sold now are almost all thick and flavoursome; they are mostly made with boiling rice with stock.

    Your mum probably has her way of cooking it too. In wikipedia, it says:
    ‘In Korea the dish goes by the name juk and is often cooked with vegetables, tuna, or other ingredients to create variants of the dish. Being largely unflavored, it is served together with a number of side dishes such as kimchi, beef jerky, pickled cuttlefish, chicken, or other ingredients, to add flavor to the dish. One variety is called jatjuk made with finely ground pine nut flour, which has been regarded a quality food.

    Juk is a common take-out dish, with several large chain stores selling it in South Korea, such as Bon Juk (본죽) and Hyun Juk (현죽).’