We have a group of friends who take turns hosting a themed pot luck dinner. It’s nothing fancy, just good home-cooked food. And at some point during dinner, someone might say “You know what I love during the winter? Congee.” The ensuing conversation will revolve around everyone’s personal preferences for flavours and accompaniments, et voila, we have the next theme for our next gathering.
Congee or Moy?
Our friends are from different backgrounds, so no matter what the cuisine, there is always animated discussion about what we grew up with, and how we like certain dishes. With congee, my dialect group (Hokkien) calls it moy, and my family like our grains of rice to be a bit more whole. A few of our friends from two other dialect groups like the grains completely disintegrated, closer to the style you find in restaurants.
Growing up, our flavours of choice, if not plain, would be slices of white fish with fresh ginger, or lightly seasoned pork made by dropping little nuggets of mince into boiling water. When we were feeling poorly with little appetite (or dreaded stomach bugs), the moy would be made as a very loose porridge, with more water than rice and the grains just split. The liquid kept us hydrated and provided just enough sustenance to tide us over until we could stomach more substantial food. It was perfect for lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself.
For our congee party, we provided the base and a few of our favourite condiments, and everyone else brought their own favourite bits to add to the mix. Most of which were already discussed and described in great detail with fond anecdotal childhood tales. Congee is a surprisingly social food, and a great way to share a bit about your family background. Possibly more so for Asians than Westerners, but we had some oat porridge based stories as well.
The recipe for congee is more of a loose guideline than a recipe, but I have included notes for variations. It’s another one of those ‘as you like it’ foods, so you may need to fiddle to get it the way you like it.
As for the accompaniments, well, how long is a piece of string?
These are three pantry staples which are just as good on rice as they are on congee for a quick meal.
- Pork (and less commonly) fish floss
Dried and shredded meat. It’s a form of meat crack. Good on plain rice, and with butter/margarine in sandwiches. You need the spread to hold it on the bread. I am not ashamed to admit to digging right into the container with a fork.
- Bamboo shoots in chilli oil
Exactly what it sounds like. Also great on rice.
- Pickled lettuce
I used to call it the ‘coin veg’. It’s pretty much pickled lettuce stem. It’s sweet and a tiny bit salty, and crunchy. I only have this with congee, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have it on rice as well.
Other things you might want for your congee bar:
- Century egg (pitan)
Eggs that have been preserved with nitrates (amongst other things) that turn the egg whites translucent black and the yolks a dark shade as well. It’s an acquired taste, but is extremely common in restaurant congees. One of my personal favourites, and is also great sliced into wedges with pickled ginger to have on rice. These come ready to eat. Just peel the shell.
- Salted duck egg
Also what it sounds like. Be aware that when you buy these, they sell them uncooked as well as cooked. Make sure you know which one you’ve picked up.
- Coriander (the leaf)
- Sliced spring onion
- White pepper
A black and sticky meat concentrate that is not to be confused with Marmite or Vegemite. It can be (poorly) substituted with Bonox if you must. Those who grew up with Bovril generally remember it fondly, and will have a ‘thing’ that they do that’s their comfort food thing. When not used for comfort food, Bovril can be used as a gravy booster.
- Fried shallots and garlic
- Light soy sauce
- Preserved or pickled vegetables
A category of items to which bamboo shoots in chilli oil and pickled lettuce belongs. It’s a broad category that usually occupies several shelves in the Asian supermarket. This includes things with the words ‘pickled’ or ‘preserved’ and ‘vegetable’ in the label. If you’re not sure, best get someone in the know to help you. This is definitely one of those times where picking at random may not be an ideal course of action.
- Fried gluten
Fried wheat gluten, usually comes in a can, and may be labelled ‘fried gluten’ or moulded to look like duck and labelled ‘mock duck’. I’m quite sure this is also called seitan. Sometimes contains whole peanuts. Either way, delicious on congee or rice.
- Fried mince
Just mince fried up with seasoning, garlic and whatever else you might feel like. Japanese has something similar that they call soboro, which can contain sugar in the seasoning, but I generally just use salt and pepper with chopped garlic.
Another recipe that I made for the party is one of my family’s home-food staples, steamed pork mince. The recipe used to be included in this post, but I’ve changed my recipe posting mechanisms and it only does one recipe per post, so I’ve written about it here.
 Talking about future meals during a meal? That’s just how we roll.