I have a confession to make. Up until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t like porridge, and I am ashamed to say it was for no good reason. There was something about its texture and the way it looks that made me reluctant to even try it. I always thought of it as food someone else had before I got there, regretted eating it and regurgitated it back to the ball. Well, I am glad to say that for the sake of writing this post I overcame my prejudice and boy oh boy was I wrong.
Rice porridge, aka congee, is a common delicacy in China and Southeast Asia. Most are on the salty side but some are sweet and make excellent breakfast or dessert. Regardless of how they look and taste the consensus is they are very good for your health and a winter must. Not every restaurant in China serves porridge but the ones that do, will have the following three:
Plain Rice Porridge
This is as simple as it gets. It’s just rice and water in a bowl. Even the Chinese name is very simple 白粥 (bái zhōu) – white porridge.
This porridge has no taste once so ever and it’s more of a remedy for sore throat or a cold than actual food.
Egg and Pork Porridge
This is probably the most common type of porridge in China. Its main ingredients are the century egg and small pieces of lean pork. It’s quite salty.
Magic Eight Bowl
The Chinese name of this porridge is ‘eight treasures porridge’ (八宝粥 – bā bǎo zhōu). The eight treasures may vary from recipe to recipe but it usually contains different kinds of beans, red dates, raisins, nuts and other cereals. This porridge is sweet and a great way to start your day.
Spot the character
Many of the places which have porridge on the menu also state that on their sign and write the Chinese character for porridge or gruel. This character is quite unique and fairly easy to recognize, even for the untrained eye. Here is how it looks:
This character is a pictogram (conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object). The middle part is 米 (rice) and the 弓 (bow) on both sides are the steam coming out of the hot boiling rice. Here it how it looks in the real world: