All about Congee
Congee, rice porridge, jook, khao tom, bubur, beh, muay: no matter what you call it, adding water or broth to rice is a delicious and frugal way to stretch out grains, while bringing plenty of comfort and joy.
I love congee. When I first moved to San Francisco, I immediately sought out places where I could get some. I also started learning how to make various versions so I can make the ones that I can't get here.
Many friends have asked for my list, and I finally shared it this week on Mastodon. I'm sharing the list here again, and also linking to some recipes and videos you can try at home if you don't have similar access.
Best fancy restaurant congee
Going out to a nice Cantonese restaurant is many southern Chinese people's version of 'going out to eat', and restaurant-quality congee is different. It tends to be more 'refined', and to use 'better' ingredients. At most sit-down dimsum places, you can get pi dan sau yuk jook, or century egg and lean pork porridge. It's a classic Cantonese restaurant dish that's meant to showcase the skills of the kitchen.
In San Francisco: Harborview, 4 Embarcadero Center, Street Level, San Francisco, CA 94111 (Reservations are highly encouraged, outdoor patio area is fun and has a view of the Ferry Building and Bay Bridge)
In Oakland: Ming's Tasty, 940 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
Best take out dimsum congee
I don't really like takeout dimsum. Dimsum to me is about going to a nice place, sitting down, having high quality ingredients with family and lingering over good Chinese tea. Takeout dimsum also reminds me of school food where I grew up: a lot of the most popular takeout dimsum spots in the Bay Area have, to me, food quality no better than my school cafeteria food in Singapore. However, Dim Sum Bistro in SF Chinatown is an exception. Food is as cheap as some of the other popular spots in Chinatown, Richmond and Sunset, but of markedly better quality. Their congee is especially good, especially for the price (a buck or two, when I last had it).
Dim Sum Bistro, 675 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
Everyday Cantonese congee in East Bay
These two spots, very close to each other, are the places where Chinese folks in Oakland Chinatown would go to get their congee fix. I call them 'everyday congee' because they're in the types of sit-down establishments you might go to any time, just for one dish or two, unlike the fancy dimsum spots listed above.
Gum Kuo, 388 9th St STE 182 (1st floor of Pacific Renaissance Plaza), Oakland, CA 94607
Yung Kee, 888 Webster St (1st floor of Far East Commercial Plaza), Oakland, CA 94607
Best Cantonese congee according to old people in the Bay Area
Hing Lung was the place to go to in San Francisco's Chinatown for many years. Like many other good Chinese food options in the city, they also moved south. They are now in South San Francisco's downtown area and I'm pleased to report the food is just as good. They are known for their congee, especially, and I have it on good authority from old Chinese people I talk to, as well as from first generation Hong Kong immigrants I know, that this is their spot when they are homesick.
Hing Lung Cafe, 331 Grand Ave, South San Francisco, CA 94080
Teochew porridge for the curious
As some of you know, my Teochew culinary heritage is of great importance to me. There's a Chinese food documentary called Flavorful Origins: its first season ("Chaoshan") should give you a pretty good idea of what this food culture means to me. Fresh seafood, good quality ingredients, making things the traditional way where possible, and emphasizing on lightly seasoned but well-prepared items is a way of eating that has influenced me. In the Bay Area, Teochew food tends to be hidden under the banner of 'Chiu Chow' (how you say Teochew in Cantonese) or in Vietnamese restaurants. Many in our local Vietnamese community are Vietnamese Chinese, specifically Teochew. This SF Chronicle article provides a good overview of where to get Teochew dishes here.
In San Francisco, I would go to SoHoMei for home-style, simple Teochew porridge. If you're used to Cantonese-style congee, which tends to be very savory and flavorful, Teochew porridge is plain rice and water in comparison. That's because you're meant to eat it with a few salty sides.
In Millbrae, Porridge & Things has Teochew porridge in different forms. The shrimp and crab is the most popular. They serve it in a 'sa wo' (a claypot), and there are a bunch of sides. It's also the only Chinese place in the Bay Area I have been to where they have Teochew olive vegetables on the side. It's a type of preserve associated mainly with Teochew cuisine, and often eaten as a topping with porridge, fried rice or plain white rice. Their items are quite different from what I would eat at home, but I'd chalk that down to them likely being Chiu Chow / Teochew from Hong Kong or mainland China, whereas I'm used to Teochew food in a Southern Malaysian and Singaporean context. It's still an excellent spot for all types of congee / porridge, as the name suggests.
SoHoMei, 1240 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122
Porridge & Things, 235 Broadway, Millbrae, CA 94030
Other congee-like items I love and where to get them
All of these things are great but may be slightly more 'advanced'.
- Cháo lòng (Vietnamese pork offal porridge) at Mong Thu, 248 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94102
- Taiwan Porridge (branches in Milpitas, Cupertino, Fremont), full Taiwanese porridge experience with all the sides. Also try their sweet potato porridge, which is the sort of thing my Hokkien grandmother would make for us. Very similar to Teochew porridge in terms of being a plainer rice porridge meant to be eaten with sides. This type of setup is most like the late night post-clubbing Teochew and Taiwanese porrige spots you might find in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan
Make it yourself
If you don't live anywhere near any of these spots, you can also get into making it youself.
Here are some recipes I like and trust:
- Made with Lau's congee recipe: the whisk trick to break down the rice is especially useful, it lets you make a more consistent Cantonese congee texture without having to cook it for as long as they do in restaurants
- Vegan congee recipe: using mushrooms and lemongrass
- Japanese okayu: a simple Japanese porridge recipe
- The congee recipe most like what I would have had at home as a child
- Easy rice cooker congee recipe by one of my favorite Singaporean recipe channels
- Singaporean porridge with braised peanuts and dried scallops
- Teochew fish porridge, my Teochew grandmother made this for me regularly. Using the best quality fish is key, especially firm, white fish fillets
Happy congee-eating, and -making!!