Dim sum has a good spread of sumptuous dishes which makes it one of the most well loved cuisine in the world.
It’s goodness goes way beyond the Chinese palate, which comes as no surprise. This is actually self-explanatory once you’ve had your fill. And of one the crowd favorites, which is also dubbed as a comfort food, is congee.
What is Congee?
Congee is a rice and water that is boiled into a thick porridge which is a staple Chinese food with a history that spanned thousands of years. It has its roots back to the imperial dynasty, over time it underwent several additions and renditions to it’s basic recipe.
If you are not familiar with it, this dish may sound bland to you. But remember, just like a simple bowl of oatmeal, you can also stretch congee to gastronomically satisfying lengths with the different additions you prefer. It’s like a beautiful canvas that you can paint with a colorful variety of flavors.
But what makes congee close to the hearts of many is that it is easy to make, easy to digest and definitely filling. It is Asian comfort food in its finest.
How is congee made?
What is interesting about congee is that even in its simplicity, there are actually several ways to whip up a sumptuous steaming bowl that is both satisfying to the palate and your stomach.
Since rice is the main ingredient, first thing you have to consider is the type of rice you want to use. And a high quality rice makes the difference. Those who have learned to perfect the art of making congee says that short or medium grain rice makes the best results. Jasmine rice or a medium grain brown rice also makes a good option.
Some say that you need to wash the rice, while others prefer to keep the raw starch around the grains to add more character to the gruel. Another approach would be to add the rice into boiling water, while some prefer to soak the grains in water for a few hours before cooking, some also like to put rice and cold water simultaneously into the bowl before it is brought to a boil and then simmered for a few minutes. But it is also knowing the right water to rice ration is the secret to making the perfect congee.
Congee can be cooked in a large cauldron, a pot, or even on a rice cooker. Some rice cookers out there even has a setting specifically for congee, so that you can cook your rice overnight until it becomes smooth and velvety. Some also say that frequently stirring the rice can cook the congee much faster because the motion can easily break the rice ultimately creating a silky texture.
Making it your own
As mentioned earlier, congee can be made to be your own with the variety of additions to accentuate the creamy “canvass”. You can add chicken, beef, pork, fish, vegetables, or century eggs. With the Asian palate more attuned to an interesting concoction of flavors for their congee a steaming bowl can can be topped with fried garlic, salted radish, soy sauce, fermented black beans, crispy fried salted fish, and sesame oil. For those who prefer something sweet, you may add fruits or milk for a warm and sweet treat.
Congee and its health benefits
Congee is called a comfort food for a reason. Not only does it relieve a craving, or warm the senses during cold weather, it also offers a relief when you are not feeling so peachy.
It is said that congee can help improve digestion, it is nourishing, a good tonic for the blood and an excellent dish to energize the body. According to some sources congee can also increase a mother’s milk supply, and when the liquid is strained, it can also be used as a supplement for the baby.
These healthy and therapeutic properties can be added to congee when you add herbs, vegetables, and different kinds of healthy meat. Rice, on its own, can already help improve the function of the spleen and pancreas. So when you put in healthy additions into the mix these health properties becomes enhanced.
Some of the common additions to congee which is also known to make it extra healthy include:
- Chicken broth – perfect for colds and wasting illnesses or injuries
- Mung Bean – particularly cooling, helps relieve thirst and fever
- Ginger – helps relieve diarrhea, vomiting, and indigestion
- Water chestnut– improves digestion
- Black Pepper – helps relieve gas and bowel problems
- Chicken meat – improves liver function
- Carrots – relieves gas and improves digestion
Just as chicken soup is the Western staple when curing an ailing body brought down by the flu, congee also serves as a perfect Asian counterpart.
Aside from an excellent pick-me-upper for the sick, congee is also perfect to eat anytime. Some household eat it for breakfast, others like to chow it down during lunch, snack or dinner. It is perfect pair just as rice goes well with any dish.
Congee has indeed gone far and wide when it comes to giving us a variety of flavors. The taste would also vary depending on the region from which it was made. Different regions or countries use different types of rice, which can also affect the taste significantly.
Some ingredients added into congee can also make a unique result that will surprise and satiate the palate. For example, in China, salted duck eggs, bamboo shoots, and pickled tofu along with other condiments are common. In Japan, salmon, roe, and negi (a type of green onion) is also added to enhance the flavors. Koreans like to add more flavorful additions such as pickled cuttlefish or spicy octopus. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, they love to add pandan leaves to make the gruel more fragrant while also giving it a hint of flavor.
In many Asian countries, congee may be considered a food for times of famine because this manner of cooking helps stretch the rice ration. But today, the plethora of ingredients that can be added into one bowl surely makes congee a beautiful feast for the palate and the stomach making it perfect for any food run. In Singapore dim sum is definitely not the same without their own twist of the classic congee.