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Congee is eaten all across Asia but it’s known by many different names and in many different forms. The type of congee eaten can even change may even change within the one country. In China for example, the Cantonese in the south make congee in a different style to those in the north, and Hong Kong and Taiwan each have their own versions.
So to properly introduce you to the wide world of congee, we’re going to take you on a whirlwind rice-porridge adventure. It’s like a Contiki tour of congee, minus the drinking and the bus.
The former British colony of Burma eats congee in its simplest form. Here, it’s known as Hsan Pyoke, which literally translates to ‘rice boiled’. It’s often made with just rice and water and garnished with spring onions. Like most places, it’s considered excellent food for the ill.
Here, congee is made the same way as it is in the Fujian province of China (south-east coast). This makes perfect sense as it’s the province closest to Taiwan and the jump-off point for many of the original Chinese who immigrated to Taiwan. Much like Myanmar, the congee in Taiwan is made with rice and water, though often sweet potato is added for flavour and eggs are stirred through to thicken up the porridge.
Australia’s closest Asian neighbours call their congee bubur and mostly eat it for breakfast. On a typical morning you’ll see roaming carts serving bubur ayam in every neighbourhood. It’s commonly served with shredded chicken meat and a variety of condiments like spring onion, crispy fried shallots, fried soybean, Chinese churros (called youtiao, or cakwe in Indonesia), both salty and sweet soy sauce and sometimes topped with turmeric chicken broth (soto sauce) and kerupuk (Indonesian style crackers)
Kayu (sometimes okayu) is much thicker than most other types of congee as the Japanese use a lot less water when cooking the rice. It’s also cooke for less time. It’s typically garnished with spring onions, salmon, roe, ginger and umeboshi (pickled ume fruit). A type of kayu called nanakusa-gayu (“seven herb porridge”) is traditionally eaten on 7 January and is believed to protect the consumer against evil and provide good luck and long life.
Chao is the name used by the Vietnamese, and here they like their congee cooked with pandan leaves and Asian mung beans. It is especially common among Buddhist monks, nuns and farmers where it’s eaten as a simple breakfast with pickled vegetables or fermented tofu.
Another breakfast congee, Thai jok is often served with a raw or partially cooked egg, minced pork or beef and chopped spring onions. If you’re feeling fancy, why not add a pathongko (deep-fried doughnut), fried garlic, slivered ginger and spicy pickles. Despite it being most popular in the mornings, jok is sold through the day, and is very similar to Laos congee, or khao piak.
Similar to Cantonese-style congee, lugaw is typically a thicker porridge and is boiled with strips of fresh ginger, You’ll commonly find it topped with spring onions and served with crispy fried garlic with dried red safflower (kasubha) used for colour. Fish or chicken may be added for flavour, but more traditional lúgaw may contain tokwa’t baboy (diced tofu and pork), goto (beef tripe), utak (pig brains), dilà (pig tongue), litid (beef ligaments).
We’ve got some fantastic congee recipes to try now that you’ve been introduced to the world of congee. And if we missed any of your favourites, let us know!