Is congee poised to become the next ramen?

Ginger & mushroom congee

If you aren't already familiar with congee, the staple porridge of many Asian countries, you should be, according to chefs who are elevating the humble dish to restaurant-worthy status. Congee is being reimagined as gourmet fare by innovative chefs like Mei Lin. Lin's souped-up congee featuring carnitas, scallion puree, hot sauce, peanuts and egg yolk helped earn her the title of Top Chef on the 12th season of the Bravo TV show.

"I grew up with it as comfort food," says Lin, who is developing a restaurant in Los Angeles. She notes that anyone familiar with grits or risotto should be able to relate to congee. "You can flavor it anyway you want,'' she adds. "It can be an all-day type dish. I eat it for breakfast and I can eat it for dinner. It's universal."

Chefs Minh Phan of Porridge and Puffs in Los Angeles and Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice in Chicago agree that congee is worthy of diners' attention. Phan hopes that the porridge will become the new ramen, and both chefs advocate using grains other than rice. They encourage using teff, amaranth, quinoa, millet or buckwheat in addition to the traditional short grain rice.

Phan actually prefers to use the term "California porridge" for her dishes because congee comes with a set of expectations that her food might not match. "Porridge is a more general term, giving us flexibility in not only the grains we use, but range in cooking techniques, and expectation of flavor, consistency," she notes. 

To get you started with congee, try one of these 27 online recipes from the EYB Library:

Basic jook (a.k.a. juk, congee or rice porridge) from Foodie With Family
Duck congee
from Observer Food Monthly Magazine by Uyen Luu
Congee (Jook)
from My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons
Mung bean and mixed rice sweet congee
from Food52
Brown rice congee with shiitake mushrooms and greens
from The Kitchn

Photo of Ginger and mushroom congee from Simon Bryant's Vegies

1 Comment

  • Rinshin  on  5/8/2015 at 12:04 PM

    I don't think so, but I do like the Japanese version known as okayu and it is very popular inn and hotel breakfast item in Japan. It is also served when one is sick because it is easy to eat. Japanese okayu uses much less water/stock than the Chinese version ie congee.

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